After a killer day at the office, nothing smoothed those raw edges like happy hour. On the Rocks on Manhattan’s Lower West Side catered to white-collar working stiffs who wanted half-price drinks and some cheesy rice balls while they bitched about their bosses or hit on a coworker.
Or the execs who wanted a couple of quick belts close to the office before their commute to the ’burbs.
From four-thirty to six, the long bar, the high-tops and low-tops bulged with lower-rung execs, admins, assistants, and secretaries who flooded out of the cubes, pools, and tiny offices. Some washed up like shipwreck survivors. Others waded ashore ready to bask in the buzz. A few wanted nothing more than to huddle alone on their small square of claimed territory and drink the day away.
By five, the bar hummed like a hive while bartenders and waitstaff rushed and scurried to serve those whose workday was behind them. The second of those half-price drinks tended to improve moods so the laughter, amiable chatter, and premating rituals punctuated the hum.
Files, accounts, slights, unanswered messages were forgotten in the warm gold light, the clink of glasses and complimentary beer nuts.
Now and again the door opened to welcome another survivor of New York’s vicious business day. Cool fall air whisked in along with a blast of street noise. Then it was warm again, gold again, a humming hive again.
Midway through that happiest of hours (ninety minutes in bar time), some headed back out. Responsibilities, families, a hot date pulled them out the door to subways, airtrams, maxibuses, cabs. Those who remained settled back for one more, a little more time with friends and coworkers, a little more of that warm gold light before the bright or the dark.
Macie Snyder crowded at a plate-sized high-top with her boyfriend of three months and twelve days, Travis, her best work pal, CiCi, and Travis’s friend Bren. Macie had wheedled and finagled for weeks to set CiCi up with Bren with the long view to double dates and shared boy talk. They made a happy, chattering group, with Macie perhaps the happiest of all.
CiCi and Bren had definitely connected—she could see it in the body language, the eye contact—and since CiCi texted her a couple times under the table, she had it verified.
By the time they ordered the second round, plans began to evolve to extend the evening with dinner.
After a quick signal to CiCi, Macie grabbed her purse. “We’ll be right back.”
She wound her way through tables, muttered when someone at the bar stood up and shoulder bumped her. “Make a hole,” she called out cheerfully, and took CiCi’s hand as they scurried down the narrow steps and queued up for the thankfully short line in the restroom.
“I know, I know. You said he was adorable, and you showed me his picture, but he’s so much cuter in person. And so funny! Blind dates are usually so lame, but this is just mag.”
“Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll talk them into going to Nino’s. That way, after dinner, we’ll go one way, and you’ll have to go the other to get home. It’ll give Bren a chance to walk you home and you can ask him up.”
“I don’t know.” Always second-guessing with dates—which was why she didn’t have a boyfriend of three months and twelve days—CiCi chewed at her bottom lip. “I don’t want to rush it.”
“You don’t have to sleep with him.” Macie rolled her round blue eyes. “Just offer him coffee, or, you know, a nightcap. Maybe fool around a little.”
She dashed into the next open stall. She really had to pee. “Then text me after he leaves and tell me everything. Full deets.”
Making a beeline for the adjoining stall, CiCi peed in solidarity. “Maybe. Let’s see how dinner goes. Maybe he won’t want to walk me home.”
“He will. He’s a total sweetie. I wouldn’t hook you up with a jerkhead, CiCi.” She walked to the sink, sniffed at the peachy-scented foam soap, then beamed a grin at her friend when CiCi joined her. “If it works out, it’ll be so much fun. We can double date.”
“I really like him. I get a little nervous when I really like a guy.”
“He really likes you.”
“Are you sure?”
“Abso-poso,” Macie assured her, brushing her short curve of sunny blond hair while CiCi added some shine to her lip dye. Jesus, she thought, suddenly annoyed. Did she have to stroke and soothe all damn night?
“You’re pretty and smart and fun.” I don’t hang with jerkheads, Macie thought. “Why wouldn’t he like you? God, CiCi, loosen up and stop whining. Stop playing the nervous freaking virgin.”
“You want to get laid or not?” Macie snapped and had CiCi gaping. “I went to a lot of trouble to set this up, now you’re going to blow it.”
“Shit.” Macie rubbed at her temple. “Now I’m getting a headache.”
A bad one, CiCi assumed. Macie never said mean things. And, well, maybe she was playing the nervous virgin. A little. “Bren’s got the nicest smile.” CiCi’s eyes, a luminous green against her caramel skin, met Macie’s in the narrow mirror. “If he walks me home, I’ll ask him up.”
“Now you’re talking.”
They walked back. It seemed louder than it had, Macie thought. All the voices, the clattering dishes, the scraping chairs ground against her headache.
She told herself, with some bitterness, to ease off the next drink.
Someone blocked her path, just for a moment, as they passed the bar. Annoyed, she rounded, shoved at him, but he was already murmuring an apology and moving toward the door.
“Asshole,” she muttered, and at least had the chance to snarl as he glanced back, smiled at her before he stepped outside.
“Nothing—just a jerkhead.”
“Are you okay? I probably have a blocker if your head really hurts. I’ve got a little headache, too.”
“Always about you,” Macie mumbled, then tried to take a calming breath. Good friends, she reminded herself. Good times.
As she sat again, Travis took her hand the way he did, gave her a wink.
“We want to go to Nino’s,” she announced.
“We were just talking about going to Tortilla Flats. We’d need a reservation at Nino’s,” Travis reminded her.
“We don’t want Mexican crap. We want to go somewhere nice. Jesus, we’ll split the bill if the tab’s a BFD.”
Travis’s eyebrows drew together, digging a thin line between them, the way they did when she said something stupid. She hated when he did that.
“Nino’s is twelve blocks away. The Mexican place is practically around the corner.”
So angry her hands began to shake, she shoved her face toward his. “Are you in a fucking hurry? Why can’t we do something I want for a change?”
“We’re doing something you wanted right now.”
Their voices rose to shouts, clanging with the sharp voices all around them. As her head began to throb, CiCi glanced toward Bren.
He sat, teeth bared in a snarl, staring into his glass, muttering, muttering.
He wasn’t adorable. He was horrible, just like Travis. Ugly, ugly. He only wanted to fuck her. He’d rape her if she said no. He’d beat her, rape her, first chance. Macie knew. She knew and she’d laugh about it.
“Screw both of you,” CiCi said under her breath. “Screw all of you.”
“Stop looking at me like that,” Macie shouted. “You freak.”
Travis slammed his fist on the table. “Shut your fucking mouth.”
“I said stop!” Grabbing a fork from the table, Macie peeled off a scream. And stabbed the prongs through Travis’s eye.
He howled, the sound tearing through CiCi’s brain as he leaped up, fell on her friend.
And the bloodbath began.
Lieutenant Eve Dallas stood in the carnage. Always something new, she thought. Always something just a little more terrible than even a cop could imagine.
Even for a veteran murder cop swimming in the bubbling stew of New York in the last quarter of the year 2060, there was always something worse.
Bodies floated on a sea of blood, booze, and vomit. Some draped like rag dolls over the long bar or curled like grisly cats under broken tables. Jagged hunks of glass littered the floor, sparkled like deadly diamonds on what was left of tables and chairs—or jabbed, thick with gore, out of bodies.
The stench clogged the air and made her think of old photos she’d seen of battlefields where no side could claim clear victory.
Gouged eyes, torn faces, slit throats, heads bashed in so violently she saw pieces of skull and gray matter only added to the impression of war waged and lost. A few victims were naked, or nearly, the exposed flesh painted with blood like ancient warriors.
She stood, waiting for the first wave of shock to pass. She’d forgotten she could be shocked. She turned, tall and lean, brown eyes flat, to the beat cop, and first on scene.
“What do you know?”
She heard him breathing between his teeth, gave him time.
“My partner and I were on our break, in the diner across the street. As I came out, I observed a female, late twenties, backing away from the door of the location. She was screaming. She was still screaming when I reached her.”
“What time was that?”
“We logged out for the break at seventeen-forty-five. I don’t think we were in there over five minutes, Lieutenant.”
“The female was unable to speak coherently, but she pointed to the door. While my partner attempted to calm the female, I opened the door.”
He paused, cleared his throat. “I’ve got twenty-two years in, Lieutenant, and I’ve never seen anything like this. Bodies, everywhere. Some were still alive. Crawling, crying, moaning. I called it in, called for medicals. There was no way to keep the scene undisturbed, sir. People were dying.”
“We got eight or ten out—the medicals, Lieutenant. I’m sorry, I’m not clear on the number. They were in pretty bad shape. They worked on some of them here, transported all survivors to the Tribeca Health Center. At that time we secured the scene. The medicals were all over it, Lieutenant. We found more in the bathrooms, back in the kitchen.”
“Were you able to question any of the survivors?”
“We got some names. The ones able to speak all said basically the same thing. People were trying to kill them.”
“Okay. Let’s keep everybody out of here for now.” She walked with him to the door.
She spotted her partner. She’d parted ways with Peabody less than an hour before. Eve stayed back at Central to catch up on paperwork. She’d been on her way to the garage, thinking of home when she’d gotten the call.
At least, for once, she remembered to text her husband, letting Roarke know she’d be later than expected.
She moved forward to block the door and intercept her partner.
She knew Peabody was sturdy, solid—despite the pink cowgirl boots, rainbow-tinted sunshades and short, flippy ponytail. But what was beyond the door had shaken her, and a beat cop with over twenty on his hard, black shoes.
“Almost made it,” Peabody said. “I’d stopped by the market on the way home. Thought I’d surprise McNab with a home-cooked.” She shook a small market bag. “Good thing I hadn’t started. What did we catch?”
Peabody’s easy expression slid away, leaving her face cold. “How bad?”
“Pray to God you never see worse. Multiple bodies. Hacked, sliced, bashed, you name it. Seal up.” Eve tossed her a can of Seal-it from the field kit she carried. “Put down that bag and grab your guts. If you need to puke, get outside. There’s already plenty of puke in there, and I don’t want yours mixed in. The crime scene’s fucked. No way around it. MTs and the responding officers had to get the survivors, treat some of them right on scene.”
“I’ll be okay.”
“Record on.” Eve stepped back inside.
She heard Peabody’s strangled gasp, the jagged hitch of her breath. “Mother of God. Jesus, Jesus.”
“Strap it down, Peabody.”
“What the hell happened here? All these people.”
“That’s what we’re going to find out. There’s a wit of sorts out in the black-and-white. Get her statement.”
“I can handle this, Dallas.”
“You’re going to.” She kept her voice as flat as her eyes. “Get her statement, call in Baxter, Trueheart, Jenkinson, Reineke. We need more hands, more eyes. At a glance, we’ve got more than eighty bodies, and eight to ten survivors at the hospital. I want Morris on scene,” she added, referring to the chief medical examiner. “Hold off the sweepers until we deal with the bodies. Find the owner, and any staff not working tonight. Get a canvass started. Then come back in here and help me work the scene.”
“If you talked to the wit I can round up the rest.” Not yet sure she had a solid hold on her guts, Peabody let her gaze skim over the room. “You can’t start on this by yourself.”
“One body at a time. Get started. Move it.”
Alone, Eve stood in the horrible quiet, in the sick air.
She was a tall woman wearing boots that showed some wear and a good leather jacket. Her hair, short, choppy, mirrored the golden brown tone of her eyes. Her long mouth firmed now as she took a moment, just a moment, to block off the trickles of pity and horror that wanted to eke through.
Those she stood over now needed more than her pity and better than her horror.
“Dallas, Lieutenant Eve,” she began. “Visual estimate of more than eighty victims, multiple and varied injuries. Male and female, multiple races, unknown age span. The scene has been compromised by medical personnel treating and removing survivors. The DBs and survivors were discovered by police at approximately seventeen-fifty. Vic one,” she said and crouched down, opened her kit.
“Male,” she continued, “severe trauma to the face and head, minor to severe gouges, face, neck, hands, arms, belly.” She pressed his fingers to her pad. “Vic one is identified as Cattery, Joseph, mixed-race male, age thirty-eight. Married, two offspring, male and female. Brooklyn address. Employed as assistant marketing director, Stevenson and Reede. That’s two blocks away. Stop in for a drink, Joe?
“Skin under his nails.” She took a small sample before sealing them. “He’s wearing a gold wedding ring, a gold wrist unit. Carrying an engraved case—credit cards, some cash, ID. Key cards, pocket ’link.”
Bagging the contents, sealing, labeling, working precisely, she focused on Joseph Cattery.
She peeled up his split top lip. “Teeth are broken. Took a hard one to the face. But it’s the head trauma that probably killed him. ME to confirm.” She took out her gauges. “TOD seventeen-forty-five. That’s five before the first on scene.”
Five minutes? she thought. Five minutes before the beat cop opened the door. What were the odds?
She had only to shift to continue. “Vic two,” she began.
She’d identified and examined five when Peabody stepped back.
“The team’s on the way,” Peabody told her, steady now. “I got the wit’s information. According to her statement she was meeting a couple of friends here, and ran late. Got caught at work. She talked to one of them, a Gwen Talbert, at about five-thirty. I confirmed that with the wit’s ’link. Everything was fine. She got here about twenty minutes later, and found this. It was done when she opened the door, Dallas. She freaked, stumbled back, screamed, and kept screaming until Officers Franks and Riley got to her.”
“Talbert, Gwenneth, vic three. Broken arm—looks like somebody tromped on it. Slit throat.”
“How could this happen in twenty minutes? Less. How could the entire population of a bar be attacked and slaughtered in under twenty minutes?”
Eve pushed to her feet. “Look at the scene, Peabody. I’ve gone over five DBs, and it’s my take every one of them was killed with a weapon of opportunity. Broken glass, a bottle of liquor, kitchen knife, bare hands. There’s a guy over there with a fork sticking out of his left eye, a woman still clutching the gored, broken table leg it appears she beat the man lying beside her to death with.”
Sometimes the simplest explanation, no matter how terrible, was truth.
“There are briefcases, purses, jewelry, money all over the scene. There’s good liquor still behind the bar. A gang of chemi-heads gone fucking crazy? They wouldn’t be out in twenty, and they’d take valuables to buy more shit. Gang of spree killers looking for major kicks? They’d lock the door and have a party after they’d finished. Added to it, it would take a damn big gang of anything to massacre over eighty, injure about ten more. Nobody gets out, hides, manages to get to their ’link to call for help?”
Eve shook her head. “And when you do this kind of damage, you’re covered with it. Franks had blood on his uniform, his shoes, still had some on his hands and he only assisted the medicals.”
Eve stared into Peabody’s stunned eyes. “These people killed each other, Peabody. They waged war, and they all lost.”
“But . . . how? Why?”
“I don’t know.” But she’d damn well find out. “We need a tox on every vic. What they ingested. I want the sweepers to go over every inch. Something in the food, the drink. Product tampering, maybe. We need to check it out.”
“Everybody wouldn’t have been eating or drinking the same thing.”
“Enough of the same, or more than one thing was tampered with. We start with the vics—IDs, COD, TOD, relationships with each other. Where they work, where they live. And the scene, any trace. We get every glass, bottle, dish, the coolers, the AutoChefs, the grill—whatever—to the lab, or we bring the lab to the scene. We check the ventilation, the water, the cleaning supplies.”
“If it’s something like that, it could still be in here. You’ve been in here.”
“Yeah, I thought of that, after the first couple bodies. I tagged the hospital, talked to the medicals who treated the survivors. They’re fine. Whatever happened, happened fast. That twenty-minute window. I’m well passed that.
“Ingestion’s most likely,” she considered. “Even if only half of them were affected, they could’ve taken the rest by surprise.” Eve glanced down at her sealed hands, now smeared with cooling blood. “I don’t like it, but it’s a theory. Let’s work the bodies.”
Even as she spoke, the door opened. She spotted Morris.
As he wore jeans and some sort of silky crewneck shirt the color of ripe plums rather than one of his snazzy suits, she assumed he’d gone off shift. His hair, pulled back into one sleek tail, left his interesting, angular face unframed. She watched his eyes, dark as his hair, scan the room, and for an instant, both the shock and the pity lived in them.
“You’ve brought me a crowd.”
“Somebody did,” she began. “I—” She broke off as Roarke came in behind Morris.
He still wore the suit he’d put on that morning in their bedroom: solid, business black, a perfect fit to his long, lean body. The thick, black mane of his hair skimmed above the professional shoulders, slightly mussed, as if the wind had danced through it.
Where Morris’s face was interesting, oddly sexy, Roarke’s was—Roarke’s. Impossibly gorgeous, carved by the strong hand of some clever god and perfected by eyes of bold and brilliant blue.
The two men stood together, and for an instant while it all stood still, she saw that same shock and pity cross Roarke’s face, followed by a quick, deadly rage.
Those eyes met hers, and he said, “Lieutenant.” Even with the rage simmering under the word, the Irish sang through.
She moved to him, not to greet, not to block the view—impossible in any case, and he’d seen more than his share of horror in his life. But she was the officer in charge, and this was no place for civilians or husbands.
“You can’t be here.”
“I can,” he corrected. “It’s mine.”
She should’ve figured it. The man owned most of the world, and half the universe it lived in. Saying nothing, Eve turned a hard stare on Peabody.
“Sorry. I forgot to tell you I hit on Roarke when I scanned for the owner.”
“I’ll need to talk to you, but I need Morris first. You can wait outside.”
The rage on his face had gone cold and hard. “I won’t be waiting outside.”
She understood, and wished she didn’t. In the two and a half years they’d been together, he’d made her understand more than was always comfortable for a cop. She fought back the urge to touch him—so damned unprofessional, and lowered her voice.
“Listen, this is a fucking mess.”
“I can see that for myself well enough.”
“I need you to stay out of the way.”
“Then I will.” Obviously he didn’t see touching as unprofessional as he took her hand a moment, squeezed it despite the blood. “But I won’t wait outside while you wade through this nightmare inside a place I own.”
“Wait.” She turned to Morris. “I’ve . . . labeled the DBs numerically, the ones we’ve ID’d and examined. Can you start with One, and I’ll be with you in a minute.”
“I’ve got more men coming in, any minute now. We’ll have more hands and eyes to work the scene and the vics.”
“Then I’ll get started.”
“I’m going to turn you over to Peabody,” she said to Roarke. “You can walk her through security until EDD’s on scene.”
“I can tell you there are no cams in here. People stop in for a drink in a place like this, they aren’t comfortable with cams.”
No, he thought, they want to relax, perhaps share a private moment with someone. They don’t want to be recorded. They don’t expect to die a bloody death.
“We have the standard on the entrance,” he continued, “and standard again for security once the place is closed. But you won’t have anything for inside, nothing that would show you what happened here or how.”
Since she hadn’t spotted any interior cams, she’d suspected as much, but rubbed her eyes to clear her head again. “We need a list of employees, and a schedule.”
“I’ve got it. When I got the tag, I put that together.” He looked around again, trying to understand what couldn’t be imagined, to accept what shouldn’t be real.
“I’ve only had the place a few months, but didn’t make much in the way of changes. It runs—ran—smooth as far as I know. But I’ll know more before it’s done.”
“All right. Give what you have to Peabody. I need to work with Morris.”
“Eve.” Again, he took her hand, and this time when he looked in her eyes there was more sorrow than rage. “Give me an assignment, for God’s sake. Set me at something to do. I don’t know these people any more than you, even those who worked for me, but I have to do something.”
“With Peabody,” she said. “Start on the vics’ ’links. See if any transmissions went out after this started—we’ve got the time frame. See if there’s any video, any audio during the twenty-minute window.”
“Twenty? This happened in twenty bloody minutes?”
“Less than that, that’s the outside. Send Peabody back to me once EDD gets here. You can work with them. I’ve got to get on this.”
Even as she started to Morris, Jenkinson and Reineke stepped in. She swung to them, filled them in, did the same when Baxter and Trueheart arrived.
By the time she got to Morris, he was on the third victim.
“I need to get them in, Dallas. There’s defensive wounds, offensive wounds, a variety of both, and of CODs. TODs are, for the first three, within minutes.”
“It all happened fast. In under twenty. One of the vics tagged a friend who was running late, and everything was fine and normal. The friend got here about twenty minutes later, and found this.”
“They did this to each other. From what I can see at this point, they attacked and killed each other.”
“That’s my take. Some sort of poison, hallucinogenic, some fucking new rage drug. In the drinks? The bar food? In the ventilation system? There’s over eighty dead, Morris, and a handful who survived—so far—in the hospital.”
“They used what was handy—broken glass, forks, knives, furniture, their own hands.”
“There are more downstairs—bathroom area—and back in the kitchen, so it wasn’t confined to this space. But I’ve got nothing to indicate anyone got out, no signs of violence outside.”
“Consider it a blessing. I’ll have a team transport bodies as I examine them here, and we’ll rush the tox screens.”
“I’ll be in when I finish here, after I talk to any survivors.”
“We all have a long night ahead of us.”
“And the media’s going to be all over it. I’m going to request a Code Blue, but I don’t think a media block’s going to stop leaks, not on this. Let’s get some answers.”
She pushed to her feet.
Too many people, she thought. Too many dead, and too many cops working in one space. She could trust the team she’d pulled in, but still, so many hands made it too easy for one to make a mistake.
She saw Feeney, EDD captain, former partner, his wiry ginger hair an explosion over his hangdog face, huddled with Roarke. They’d find whatever could be found.
She started down the steps just as McNab—EDD ace and the love of Peabody’s life, started up. His bright blue pants, heavy with silver-studded pockets stood in harsh contrast to the horror. He might’ve had a half a million shiny rings riding along his ear, but his pretty face was hard, and all cop.
“I’ve got something.” He held out a ’link, held sealed bags of others in his other hand. “Vic down in the ladies’ room, Trueheart did the ID. Wendy McMahon, age twenty-three.”
“She used her ’link.”
“Yeah. At seventeen-thirty-two, she tagged her sister, started off telling her about some guy she met upstairs—Chip—all giddy and happy for the first thirty seconds. Then she says how she’s getting a damn headache, and by seventeen-thirty-three later, she’s bitching at the sister, calling her a whore. The sister cuts her off, but she keeps bitching. It’s crazy talk, Dallas, and when another woman comes in screaming, you can hear them going at each other, you can see bits of them fighting when this McMahon drops the ’link. I don’t see the second woman down there, so either she killed McMahon and moved on, or got away. The ’link shut off after thirty seconds of no transmission—that’s usual.”
Twelve minutes, she thought. Twelve minutes from the first sign of trouble to Vic One’s TOD.
“I want that and any others like it back at Central.”
“I’ve got a couple more. We should be able to put them together for you so you don’t have to view them on the individual ’links. It won’t take long to do it, and it’ll save time. I’ve got a lot of them to check out first.”
Eve stepped over the body at the base of the stairs, saw he’d been ID’d and tagged. Trueheart continued to work the area. She imagined Baxter had given him the assignment so the young officer had less misery to pack into his psyche.
Back upstairs, she moved to Roarke. “Stick with EDD.”
“We’re finding some snatches on ’links.”
“McNab reported. I’ll be at Central after I talk to survivors. The team can finish here, for now. We’re closing you down, Roarke, for the foreseeable.”
“Peabody,” she called out. “With me. The rest of you ID and log every body, every ’link, every weapon, any and all of the DBs’ personal items. Baxter, see to it I have a list of all vics on my desk asap. We’ll be making notifications tonight. I want the security discs from the door. Jenkinson, widen the canvass, four-block perimeter. Morris, have all the vics’ clothing sent to the lab and request Harpo on the fibers. All food and drink needs to be transported to the lab, and marked possible biohazard.”
She paused a moment, scanned. Yes, she could trust every one of them. “Full team briefing at Central.” She checked the time, calculated. “Twenty-two-thirty. I’m requesting Code Blue, so no chatter. Consider yourselves on this case until I say different.”
She gave Roarke one last glance before she walked out—into cooling air, and the blessed roar of the city.
“The hospital,” she told Peabody. “Let’s see if any of the survivors can talk to us. You drive.”
She slid into the passenger seat, took a breath. Then drew out her communicator and contacted her commander.