A killer wind hurled bitter November air, toothy little knives to gnaw at the bones. She’d forgotten her gloves, but that was just as well as she’d have ruined yet another overpriced pair once she’d sealed up.
For now, Lieutenant Eve Dallas stuck her frozen hands in the warm pockets of her coat and looked down at death.
The woman lay at the bottom of the short stairway leading down to what appeared to be a lower-level apartment. From the angle of the head, Eve didn’t need the medical examiner to tell her the neck was broken.
Eve judged her as middle forties. Not wearing a coat, Eve mused, though the vicious wind wouldn’t trouble her now. Dressed for business—suit jacket, turtleneck, pants, good boots with low heels. Probably fashionable, but Eve would leave that call to her partner when Detective Peabody arrived on scene.
No jewelry, at least not visible. Not even a wrist unit.
No handbag, no briefcase or file bag.
No litter, no graffiti in the stairwell. Nothing but the body, slumped against the wall.
At length she turned to the uniformed officer who’d responded to the 911. “What’s the story?”
“The call came in at two-twelve. My partner and I were only two blocks away, hitting a twenty-four/seven. We arrived at two-fourteen. The owner of the unit, Bradley Whitestone, and an Alva Moonie were on the sidewalk. Whitestone stated they hadn’t entered the unit, which is being rehabbed—and is unoccupied. They found the body when he brought Moonie to see the apartment.”
“At two in the morning.”
“Yes, sir. They stated they’d been out this evening, dinner, then a bar. They’d had a few, Lieutenant.”
“My partner has them in the car.”
“I’ll talk to them later.”
“We determined the victim was deceased. No ID on her. No bag, no jewelry, no coat. Pretty clear her neck’s broken. Visually, there’s some other marks on her—bruised cheek, split lip. Looks like a mugging gone south. But . . .” The uniform flushed slightly. “It doesn’t feel like it.”
Interested, Eve gave a go-ahead nod. “Because?”
“It sure wasn’t a snatch and run, figuring the coat. That takes a little time. And if she fell or got pushed down the stairs, why is she over against the side there instead of at the bottom of the steps? Out of sight from the sidewalk. It feels more like a dump. Sir.”
“Are you angling for a slot in Homicide, Officer Turney?”
“No disrespect intended, Lieutenant.”
“None taken. She could’ve taken a bad fall down the steps, landed wrong, broke her neck. Mugger goes down after her, hauls her over out of sight, takes the coat, and the rest.”
“It doesn’t feel like it. But we need more than how it feels. Stand by, Officer. Detective Peabody’s on route.” As she spoke, Eve opened her field kit, took out her Seal-It.
She coated her hands, her boots as she surveyed the area.
This sector of New York’s East Side held quiet—at least at this hour. Most apartment windows and storefronts were dark, businesses closed, even the bars. There would be some after-hours establishments still rolling, but not close enough for witnesses.
They’d do a canvass, but odds were slim someone would pop out who’d seen what happened here. Add in the bitter cold, as 2060 seemed determined to go out clinging with its icy fingers, most people would be tucked up inside, in the warm.
Just as she’d been, curled up against Roarke, before the call.
That’s what you get for being a cop, she thought, or in Roarke’s case, for marrying one.
Sealed, she went down the stairs, studied the door to the unit first, then moved in to crouch beside the body.
Yeah, middle forties, light brown hair clipped back from her face. A little bruising on the right cheekbone, some dried blood on the split lip. Both ears pierced, so if she’d been wearing earrings, the killer had taken the time to remove them rather than rip them off.
Lifting the hand, Eve noted abraded flesh on the heel. Like a rug burn, she mused before she pressed the right thumb to her ID pad.
Dickenson, Marta, she read. Mixed-race female, age forty-six. Married Dickenson, Denzel, two offspring, and an Upper East Side address. Employed Brewer, Kyle, and Martini, an accounting firm with an office eight blocks away.
As she took out her gauges, her short brown hair fluttered in the wind. She hadn’t thought to yank on a hat. Her eyes, nearly the same gilded brown as her hair, remained cool and flat. She didn’t think about the husband, the kids, the friends, the family—not yet. She thought of the body, the position, the area, the time of death—twenty-two-fifty.
What were you doing, Marta, blocks from work, from home on a frigid November night?
She shined her light over the pants, noted traces of blue fiber on the black cloth. Carefully, she tweezed off two, bagged them, marked the pants for the sweepers.
She heard Peabody’s voice over her head, and the uniform’s answer. Eve straightened. Her leather coat billowed at the hem around her long, lean frame as she turned to watch Peabody—or what she could see of her partner—clomp down the steps.
Peabody had thought of a hat, had remembered her gloves. The pink—Jesus pink—ski hat with its sassy little pom-pom covered her dark hair and the top of her face right down to the eyes. A multicolored scarf wound around and around just above the plum-colored puffy coat. The hat matched the pink cowboy boots Eve had begun to suspect Peabody wore even in bed.
“How can you walk with all that on?”
“I hiked to the subway, then from the subway, but I stayed warm. Jeez.” One quick gleam of sympathy flicked across Peabody’s face. “She doesn’t even have a coat.”
“She’s not complaining. Marta Dickenson,” Eve began, and gave Peabody the salients.
“It’s a ways from her office and her place. Maybe she was walking from one to the other, but why wouldn’t she take the subway, especially on a night like this?”
“That’s a question. This unit’s being rehabbed. It’s empty. That’s handy, isn’t it? The way she’s in the corner there? She shouldn’t have been spotted until morning.”
“Why would a mugger care when?”
“That’s another question. Following that would be, if he did, how’d he know this unit’s unoccupied?”
“Lives in the area? Is part of the rehab crew?”
“Maybe. I want a look inside, but we’ll talk to the nine-one-one callers first. Go ahead and notify the ME.”
Eve climbed the stairs, walked to the black-and-white. Even as she signaled to the cop inside, a man pushed out of the back.
“Are you in charge?” Words tumbled over each other in a rush of nerves.
“Lieutenant Dallas. Mr. Whitestone?”
“You notified the police.”
“Yes. Yes, as soon as we found the—her. She was . . . we were—”
“You own this unit?”
“Yes.” A sharply attractive man in his early thirties, he took a long breath, expelling it in a chilly fog. When he spoke again, his voice leveled, his words slowed. “Actually, my partners and I own the building. There are eight units—third and fourth floors.” His gaze tracked up. No hat for him either, Eve mused, but a wool topcoat in city black and a black and red striped scarf.
“I own the lower unit outright,” he continued. “We’re rehabbing so we can move our business here first and second floors.”
“Which is what? Your business?”
“We’re financial consultants. The WIN Group. Whitestone, Ingersol, and Newton. W-I-N.”
“I’ll live in the downstairs unit, or that was the plan. I don’t—”
“Why don’t you run me through your evening,” Eve suggested.
“Stay in the car where it’s warm, Alva.”
“I can’t sit anymore.” The woman who slid out was blonde and sleek and tucked into some kind of animal fur and thigh-high leather boots with high skinny heels. She hooked her arm through Whitestone’s arm.
They looked like a set, Eve thought. Both pretty, well-dressed, and showing signs of shock.
“Lieutenant Dallas.” Alva held out a hand. “You don’t remember me?”
“We met for five seconds at the Big Apple Gala last spring. I’m one of the committee chairs. Doesn’t matter,” she said with a shake of her head as the wind streamed through her yard of hair. “This is horrible. That poor woman. They even took her coat. I don’t know why that bothers me so much, but it seems cruel.”
“Did either of you touch the body?”
“No.” Whitestone took over. “We had dinner, then we went for drinks. At the Key Club, just a couple blocks down. I was telling Alva what we’ve been doing here, and she was interested, so we walked over so I could give her a tour. My place is nearly done, so . . . I was getting out my key, about to plug in the code when Alva screamed. I didn’t even see her, Lieutenant, the woman. I didn’t even see her, not until Alva screamed.”
“She was back in the corner,” Alva said. “At first, even when I screamed I thought she was a sidewalk sleeper. I didn’t realize . . . then I did. We did.”
She leaned into Whitestone when he put an arm around her waist. “We didn’t touch her,” Whitestone said. “I stepped over, closer, but I could see . . . I could tell she was dead.”
“Brad wanted me to go inside, where it’s warm, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t wait inside knowing she was out there, in the cold. The police came so fast.”
“Mr. Whitestone, I’m going to want a list of your partners, and of the people working on the building.”
“If you’d give that and your contact information to my partner, you can go home. We’ll be in touch.”
“We can go?” Alva asked her.
“For now. I’d like your permission to go inside the unit, the building.”
“Sure. Anything you need. I have keys and codes,” he began.
“I’ve got a master. If there’s any trouble, I’ll let you know.”
“Lieutenant?” Alva called her again as Eve turned to go. “When I met you, before, I thought what you did was glamorous. In a way. Like the Icove case, and how it’s going to be a major vid. It seemed exciting. But it’s not.” Alva’s gaze swept back toward the stairs. “It’s hard and it’s sad.”
“It’s the job,” Eve said simply, and walked back toward the steps. “We’ll wait to canvass until morning,” she told Officer Turney. “Nobody’s going to tell us much if we wake them up at this hour. The building’s vacant, not just the unit. See that the wits get where they need to go. What’s your house, Turney?”
“We’re out of the one-three-six.”
“And your CO?”
“Sergeant Gonzales, sir.”
“If you want in on the canvass, I’ll clear it with your CO. Be here at oh-seven-thirty.”
“Yes, sir!” She all but snapped a salute.
Mildly amused, Eve walked down the stairs, cleared the locks and codes, and entered the lower unit.
“Lights on full,” she ordered, pleased when they flashed on.
The living area—she assumed as it wasn’t yet furnished—provided a generous space. The walls—what was painted—glowed like freshly toasted bread, and the floors—what wasn’t covered with tarps—gleamed in a rich dark finish. Materials, supplies, all stacked neatly in corners, provided evidence of ongoing work.
Tidy, and efficient, probably down to the final details.
So why was one tarp bunched, unlike the others, exposing a wide area of that gleaming floor?
“Like someone slipped on it, or wrestled on it,” she said as she walked over, let her recorder scan the width, the length before she bent to straighten it.
“Lots of paint splatters, but . . .”
She crouched, took out her flashlight and shined it over the tarp. “That sure looks like blood to me. Just a few drops.”
She opened her kit, took a small sample before marking the spot for the sweepers.
She moved away, into a wide galley-style kitchen, more gleaming and glowing under protective tarps and seals.
By the time she’d done the first pass-through—master bedroom and bath, second bedroom or office and bath—Peabody came in.
“I started runs on the wits,” Peabody began. “The woman’s loaded. Not Roarke loaded, but she can afford that coat and those really mag boots.”
“Yeah, it showed.”
“He’s doing just fine, too. Second-generation money, but he’s earning his own. He’s got a D&D, but it’s ten years back. Her deal is speeding. She’s got a shitload of speeding tickets, mostly to and from her place in the Hamptons.”
“You know how it is when you want to get to the Hamptons. What do you see, Peabody?”
“Really good work, attention to detail, money well spent, and deep enough pockets to be able to spend it on really good work and attention to detail. And . . .” Unwinding a couple feet of her mile of scarf, Peabody stepped over to Eve’s marker. “What might be blood on this tarp.”
“The tarp was bunched up, like a rug when you take a skid on it. All the others are laid out fairly smoothly.”
“Accidents happen in construction. Blood gets spilled. But.”
“Yeah, but. Blood on a tarp and a body outside the door. Her lip’s split, and there’s dried blood on it. Not a lot of blood, so somebody might not even notice any dripped on the tarp, especially when the tarp bunched up.”
“They brought her in here?” Forehead furrowed, Peabody looked back at the door. “I didn’t see any signs of forced entry, but I’ll check again.”
“They didn’t force it. Maybe picked it, but that takes time. More likely they had the code, or a damn good reader.”
“Putting all that into the mix, it’s not a simple mugging gone bad.”
“No. He’s not smart. The killer. If he’s strong enough to break her neck, why smack her? She’s got a bruise on the right cheek and that split lip.”
“Punched her. Left jab.”
“I don’t think a punch, that’s really stupid. Backhand. A guy only slaps a woman if he wants to humiliate her. He punches if he’s pissed, drunk or doesn’t give a shit about blood and damage. He backhands when he wants to hurt, and intimidate. Plus it looked like a backhand—knuckles on bone.”
She’d been hit in the face enough to recognize the signs.
“Smart and controlled enough not to punch, not to beat on her,” Eve said, “but not smart enough to leave the area clean. Not smart enough just to take the tarp with him. She’s got what looks like a rug burn on the heel of her right hand, and blue fibers on her pants, maybe carpet from a vehicle.”
“You think somebody grabbed her, forced her into a vehicle.”
“Possible. You have to get her here, to this empty unit, do what you do. He’s smart enough to take her valuables, including the coat to play the bad mugging card. But he left her boots. Good boots, looked fairly new. If you’re a mugger who’d take the time to drag off the coat, why leave her boots?”
“If he brought her in here, he wanted privacy,” Peabody pointed out. “And time. It doesn’t look like rape. Why get her dressed again?”
“She was going to or coming from work.”
“From,” Peabody confirmed. “When I ran her I got an alert. Her husband contacted the police. She didn’t come home. Working late, but didn’t come home. She spoke to him via ’link as she was leaving the office—according to the alert—and that was shortly after twenty-two hundred.”
“That’s a lot of data for an alert, especially one on a woman who’s a few hours late getting home.”
“I thought so, too, so I ran him. Denzel Dickenson, Esquire. He’s Judge Gennifer Yung’s baby brother.”
“That would do it.” Eve blew out a breath. “This just got sticky.”
“Yeah, I got that.”
“Call in the sweepers, Peabody, and flag it priority. No point in not covering all asses when dealing with the judge’s dead sister-in-law.”
She pushed a hand through her hair, recalculated. She’d intended to go by the victim’s office building, retracing the likely route, getting a feel for the area. Then backtracking before continuing to the victim’s residence, gauging the ground, figuring the timing, the direction. But now—”
“The husband’s been pacing the floor for hours by now. Let’s go give him the bad news.”
“I hate this part,” Peabody murmured.
“When you don’t, it’s time to find another line of work.”
The Dickensons rated one of the four penthouse condos with roof garden atop one of the Upper East Side’s dignified buildings. All elegant gray stone and glass, it rose and rounded above a neighborhood where nannies and dog walkers ruled the sidewalks and parks.
Night security required clearance, which equaled, to Eve, a pain in the ass.
“Dallas, Lieutenant Eve, and Peabody, Detective Delia.” She held her badge up to the security screen. “We need to speak with Denzel Dickenson. Penthouse B.”
Please state the nature of your business, the butter-smooth computerized voice intoned.
“That would come under the heading of none of yours. Scan the badges and authorize access.”
I’m sorry, Penthouse B is secured for the night. Access to the building and any unit therein requires clearance from the manager, an authorized tenant or notification of emergency status.
“Listen to me, you half-ass, chip-brained dipshit, this is official police business. Scan the badges and clear access. Otherwise I’ll have warrants issued immediately for the arrest of the building manager, the head of security, and the owners on the charge of obstruction of justice. And you’ll be in a junk pile by dawn.”
Inappropriate language is in violation of—
“Inappropriate language? Oh, I’ve got plenty more inappropriate language for you. Peabody, contact APA Cher Reo and begin processing warrants for all appropriate parties. Let’s see how they like getting dragged out of bed at this hour, cuffed, and transported to Central because this computerized tin god refuses access to police officers.”
“All over that, Lieutenant.”
Please submit your badges for scan, and place your palm on the palm plate for verification.
Eve held up her badge with one hand, slapped her other on the palm plate. “Clear the locks. Now.”
Identification is verified. Access granted.
Eve shoved through the door, strode across the black marble lobby floor to the glossy white elevator doors flanked by two man-sized urns exploding with red spiky flowers.
Please wait here until Mr. and/or Mrs. Dickenson is notified of your arrival.
“Can it, compu-jerk.” She walked straight into the elevator, Peabody scurrying after her. “Penthouse B,” she ordered. “Give me any shit, I swear to God I’ll stun your motherboard.”
As the elevator began its smooth climb, Peabody let out a sigh of pleasure. “That was fun.”
“I hate getting dicked around by electronics.”
“Well, actually you’re getting dicked around by the programmer.”
“You’re right.” Eve’s eyes narrowed. “You’re fucking-A right. Make a note to do a search and scan. I want to find out who programmed that officious bastard.”
“That could be even more fun.” Peabody’s cheerful smile faded when the elevator stopped. “This won’t be.”
They walked to Penthouse B. More security, Eve noted, and damn good at that. Palm plate, peep, camera. She pressed the buzzer to alert the system.
A kid, Eve thought, momentarily confused.
We’re the Dickensons. Voices changed—male, female, young girl, young boy as they sounded off roll call. Denzel, Marta, Annabelle, Zack. Then a dog barked.
And that’s Cody, the boy’s voice continued. Who are you?
“Ah . . .” At a loss, Eve held up her badge to the camera.
She watched the red line scan. A beat later a more traditional computerized voice answered.
Identification scanned and verified. One moment please.
It took hardly more than that before Eve saw the security light blink from red to green.
The man who wrenched open the door wore navy sweat pants with a gray sweatshirt and well-worn running shoes. His close cropped hair showed a hint of curl above a dark, exhausted face. His eyes, the color of bitter chocolate, widened for one heartbeat, then filled with fear. Before Eve could speak, grief buried even the fear.
“No. No. No.” He went straight down to his knees, clutching at his belly as if she’d kicked it.
Peabody immediately lowered to him. “Mr. Dickenson.”
“No,” he repeated as a dog the size of a Shetland pony trotted in. The dog looked at Eve. Eve considered her stunner. But the dog only whined and bellied over to Dickenson.
“Mr. Dickenson,” Peabody all but crooned. “Let me help you up. Let me help you to a chair.”
“Marta. No. I know who you are. I know you. Dallas. Murder cop. No.”
Because pity outweighed her distrust of a giant dog, Eve crouched down. “Mr. Dickenson, we need to talk.”
“Don’t say it. Don’t.” He lifted his head, looked desperately into Eve’s eyes. “Please don’t say it.”
He wept. Wrapping his arms around the dog, swaying and rocking on his knees, he wept.
It had to be said. Even when it was known, it had to be said, for the record, and Eve knew, for the man.
“Mr. Dickenson, I regret to inform you your wife was killed. We’ve very sorry for your loss.”
“Marta. Marta. Marta.” He said it like a chant, like a prayer.
“Can we call someone for you?” Peabody asked gently. “Your sister? A neighbor?”
“Let’s go sit down,” Eve told him, and offered her hand.
He stared at it, then put his, trembling, into it. He was a tall man, well-built. It took both of them to pull him to his feet where he swayed like a drunk.
“I can’t . . . What?”
“We’re going to go sit down.” As she spoke, Peabody guided him into a spacious living area full of color, of comfort and the clutter of family with kids and a monster dog. “I’m going to get you some water, all right?” Peabody continued. “Do you want me to contact your sister?”
“Genny? Yes. Genny.”
“All right. Sit right here.”
He eased down, and the dog immediately planted its massive paws on his legs, laid its enormous head in his lap. As Peabody went off to find the kitchen, Dickenson turned to Eve. Tears continued to stream out of his eyes but they’d cleared of the initial shock.
“Marta. Where’s Marta?”
“She’s with the medical examiner.” She saw Dickenson jerk, but pushed on. “He’ll take care of her. We’ll take care of her. I know this is difficult, Mr. Dickenson, but I have to ask you some questions.”
“Tell me how. You have to tell me what happened. She didn’t come home. Why didn’t she come home?”
“That’s what we need to find out. When was your last contact with your wife?”
“We spoke at about ten. She was working late, and she called as she was leaving the office. I said, get a car, Marta, get the car service, and she called me a worrywart, but I didn’t want her walking to the subway or trying to hail a cab. It’s so cold tonight.”
“Did she arrange for a car service?”
“No. She just laughed. She said the walk to the subway would do her good. She’d been chained to her computer most of the day, and she—she—she wanted to lose five pounds. Oh my God. Oh God. What happened? Was there an accident? No,” he said with a shake of his head. “Murder cop. You’re Homicide. Somebody killed Marta. Somebody killed my wife, my Marta. Why? Why?”
“Do you know of anyone who’d want to harm her?”
“No. Absolutely not. No one. No. She doesn’t have an enemy in the world.”
Peabody came back in with a glass of water. “Your sister and her husband are on their way.”
“Thank you. Was it a mugging? I don’t understand. If someone had wanted her bag, her jewelry, she’d have given it to them. We made a promise to each other when we decided to stay in the city. We wouldn’t take stupid chances. We have children.” The hand holding the water began to shake again. “The children. What am I going to tell our kids? How can I tell our kids?”
“Are your children home?” Eve asked him.
“Yes, of course. They’re sleeping. They’ll expect her to be here when they get up for school. She’s always here when they get up for school.”
“Mr. Dickenson, I have to ask. Were there any problems in your marriage?”
“No. I’m a lawyer. My sister’s a criminal court judge. I know you have to look at me. So look,” he said with eyes welling again. “Look. Get it done. But tell me what happened to my wife. You tell me what happened to Marta.”
Fast, Eve knew. Fast and brief. “Her body was found shortly after two this morning at the base of an exterior stairway of a building approximately eight blocks from her office. Her neck was broken.”
His breath came out, tore, sucked back again. “She wouldn’t have walked that far, not at night, not alone. And she didn’t fall or you wouldn’t be here. Was she—was she raped?”
“There was no indication of sexual assault from the initial examination. Mr. Dickenson, did you attempt to contact your wife between your last call and our arrival here?”
“I’ve been calling her ’link every few minutes. I started around ten-thirty, I think, but she didn’t answer. She’d never have let me worry like this, all this time. I knew . . . I need a minute.” He got shakily to his feet. “I need a minute,” he repeated and rushed out of the room.
The dog looked after him, then walked cautiously to Peabody, lifted a paw to her knee.
“Sometimes it’s worse than others,” Peabody murmured, and gave the dog what comfort she could.