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Excerpt

Excerpt

Entombed

Chapter 1

I looked at the pool of dried blood that covered the third-floor
landing of a brownstone on one of the safest residential blocks in
Manhattan and wondered how the young woman who'd been left here to
die yesterday, her chest pierced by a steak knife, could still be
alive this afternoon.

Mercer Wallace crouched beside the stained flooring, pointing out
for me the smaller areas of discoloration. "These smudges, I
figure, are partial imprints of the perp's shoe. He must have lost
his footing over there."

The blood streaked away from the door of the victim's apartment, as
though her attacker had slid in the slippery fluid and stumbled to
the top of the staircase.

"So there's likely to be some of this on his clothing?"

"Pants leg and shoes for certain, until he cleans them. Look here,"
he said, and my eyes followed the tip of the pen he was using as a
pointer. Outlined on the light gray paint of the door to 3B was
another bloody design. "That's hers, Alex. She must have braced
herself with one foot against that panel to push the guy off. She
put up a fierce struggle."

I could make out the V-shaped tip of a woman's shoe sole, and
inches lower the circular mark that confirmed it was a pump rather
than a flat.

"High heels and all, she did pretty well for herself. Just lucky."
The uniformed cop who had been assigned to safeguard the crime
scene for the past twenty-four hours spoke to Mercer as he
straightened up.

"That's what we're calling it now when someone resists a rapist and
ends up in the intensive care unit with a few holes in her chest
and a collapsed lung?"

"Sorry, Ms. Cooper. I mean the girl is fortunate to be alive. You
know she went DOA when they pulled up to the docking bay at the
emergency room?"

Mercer had told me that. Annika Jelt had stopped breathing on the
short ride to New York Hospital. The cops who were dispatched to a
neighbor's 911 call reporting screams in the stairwell knew there
was no time to wait for an ambulance. The young officer who carried
the victim down to the patrol car had served in the army reserves
as a medic during the war in Iraq. Annika owed her life to the fact
that he revived her in the backseat of the RMP, on the way to the
ER, before she was rushed into surgery to inflate her lung and
stanch the bleeding.

Mercer led the way down the staircase. The traces of black
fingerprint dust on the banister and walls reminded me that the
Crime Scene Unit had done a thorough workup of the building when
they were summoned by Mercer, shortly after the 3 a.m. attack on a
frigid morning in late January.

"He never got her inside the apartment?"

"Nope. She fought like hell to keep him out."

"Did he take anything?" I asked.

"Keys. He took the ring with the keys to both the vestibule door
and the apartment. The super's changed both locks already."

"But money? Jewelry?"

"Her pocketbook was lying on the ground next to her. Cash and
credit cards were inside and she still had on her earrings and
bracelet. He wasn't there for the money."

Mercer had double-parked outside the five-story walk-up on East
Sixty-sixth Street. He had awakened me yesterday at six o'clock to
tell me about the case. We had worked together for the better part
of the decade that I had run the sex crimes prosecution unit of the
Manhattan District Attorney's Office, while he had been assigned to
the police department's Special Victims Squad. He knew I'd want the
first heads-up about the crime, before it was reported on the local
network news and before the DA, Paul Battaglia, hunted me down to
get enough details so that he could answer the flood of calls from
local politicians, concerned citizens, and the ever-curious media.
Violent crime, especially sexual assault, was always fodder for
headlines when it happened in the high-rent district of the Upper
East Side.

I left my desk in the criminal courthouse this afternoon to join
Mercer at the victim's apartment. It always helped me begin to
frame an investigation and prosecution if I could see exactly where
the attack had occurred and what evidence there was of a struggle,
or any clues to the perpetrator's method of operation. What the
lighting conditions were, the size of the area involved and
distances between the beginning of the attack and its conclusion,
as well as potential evidence that might be cleaned up or altered
in the days to follow -- I liked to see those things with my own
eyes. The cops had still been too busy processing the scene
themselves to allow me access when Mercer called me yesterday
morning, but now they had given the green light to let him walk me
through it.

In addition, my years of work on these cases often added another
experienced perspective to that of the police team -- and sometimes
it resulted in recalling a distinctive detail or trait that would
lead the investigators to a repeat offender in this category of
crimes in which the recidivist rate was so extraordinarily
high.

Mercer started the engine and turned up the heat in the old
department Crown Vic that had responded to more sexual assaults
than most officers ever would in a lifetime. "So, did anything
there speak to you?" Mercer said, smiling at me.

I rubbed my gloved hands together against the harsh winter chill
that had seeped through the cracks around the car windows. Lots of
veteran cops got vibes at crime scenes, claiming to be able to
figure out something about the assailant by being in the same
space. I shook my head. "Nothing you don't already know. Yet one
more sick puppy who was somehow aroused by forcing a woman he'd
never seen before to engage in a sexual act."

"There are buildings with doormen on both corners of the block.
This is a fully occupied brownstone on a well-lighted street. He's
a cool case, this guy. He got her at the front door on top of the
stoop, as she was unlocking it -- "

"She told you that?"

Mercer had been waiting at the hospital when the young woman
emerged from the anesthetic late last evening. "Too many tubes
coming out of the kid to speak, and the docs only gave me fifteen
minutes with her. I asked some basics until she ran out of steam.
She squeezed my hand like I told her for some yes-and-no kind of
questions."

We were driving to the hospital, just a few blocks away on York
Avenue at Sixty-eighth Street. Mercer stopped in to check on his
victim on the way to his office this morning, and insisted on
seeing her again, as he would every day until she recovered. He
wanted to tell the young exchange student that he had telephoned
her parents, in Sweden, and that they were flying here tomorrow.
Until they arrived, he would be the closest thing to family she
would have at her side.

"Did Annika know he had the knife when he accosted her?"

"She never even heard him coming. I figure the first thing she felt
was his arm yoking her neck and the blade of the knife scratching
the side of her throat."

"Not a particularly distinctive MO," I said.

"You looking for creative, too, Alex?"

I shook my head.

"It's all in the details, as you know. Exactly what words he said,
how he touched her, what he smelled like. It may be a couple of
days until we can get all that from her."

"And hope in the meantime that he doesn't feel it necessary to
finish the job with another victim tonight or tomorrow."

Mercer flashed his badge at the security guard in front of the
hospital driveway, who motioned him to leave the car right at the
curb.

Sophisticated monitors beeped their familiar noises as we pushed
open the doors into the surgical ICU. Nurses were engaged in every
one of the eight cubicles, tending to patients in the most critical
phase of care.

Mercer walked to the glass-enclosed area where Annika Jelt lay in
bed.

"She's awake, Detective. You can come in," the nurse said.

I remained in the doorway as Mercer took a step to the bedside. He
reached out his large hand and placed it on Annika's arm, above the
intravenous needle that carried fluids back into her slim body. As
she felt his touch, the young woman turned her head toward us and
tried to smile, recognizing her new friend and protector.

"Hello," she whispered, barely able to move her mouth because of
the tubes coming out of her nostrils.

Mercer leaned his six-foot-six-inch frame over the bed railing and
gently stroked Annika's forehead. "Don't try to talk. I just came
back to check on you. Make sure they're treating you right."

The nurse walked to the far side of the bed and adjusted the
pillows behind her head. "Detective Wallace told me he'd haul me
off to the clink if we don't get you up and out of here as soon as
possible."

She twisted her head back toward the nurse and forced another
smile.

"I spoke with your mother, Annika. It's okay. She and your dad will
be here tomorrow."

At the mention of her parents, the girl's eyes filled with tears
and a guttural cry escaped from her mouth. She wanted to speak but
couldn't find the strength, or the right words.

"They know you're going to be fine. They want to come over here and
be with you."

I couldn't understand what she was mumbling. Her head was moving
back and forth, causing all the monitors to go into high gear. It
was something about what she wanted.

"I know you want to go home," Mercer said. Her hand was clasped in
his and he continued to try to calm her by stroking her hair.

I bit my lip and thought of how isolated and frightened she must
be. Alone in a foreign country, victim of a crime that almost took
her life, and not even able to speak on the telephone to assure her
family that she would survive.

"Remember the lady I told you about, my friend Alex? I've brought
her here to meet you," Mercer said, stepping back from the bed that
was surrounded with medical equipment so that Annika could see
me.

I came in closer and she dropped his hand, gesturing toward mine. I
took his place by her side, covering her cold fingers with my own,
and let Mercer finish speaking. "Alex and I are going to find this
man, Annika. All you have to do is get strong again. That's your
only assignment."

"Mercer's right. You need to get all the rest you can. We'll be
back to see you every day. We'll get you everything you
need."

"Home?" This time I could hear her clearly.

"Of course you can go home as soon as you're well enough to
travel," I said.

"She's almost due for her pain medication," the nurse said. "She
gets agitated whenever anyone mentions her family. She doesn't want
them to see her this way and she worries about how upset they must
be. They never wanted her to come to New York for school."

We waited until she had composed herself, and the MorphiDex that
the nurse added to the drip began to take effect.

Annika's watery brown eyes blinked repeatedly, like she was
fighting sleep, determined to make sure that Mercer stayed by her
side. She closed them at last, her small head barely making a dent
in the firm pillows behind her, looking pale and sallow against the
crisp white hospital linens. The lifesaving machinery that
surrounded her outweighed her twofold. Its blinking lights and
beeping noises wouldn't disturb her medicated slumber, and I hoped
as well that nightmare visions of her attacker couldn't penetrate
the veil drawn around her by the strong painkillers.

It was not even five o'clock when we got back into the car for the
ride downtown to my office, but it was already pitch-black and the
windchill factor had dropped several notches.

Mercer's cell phone vibrated and he unhitched it from his belt to
flip it open as he pulled out of the driveway onto York
Avenue.

"Sure, Bob. I'll take a preliminary," he said, looking over at
me.

It was Bob Thaler, the chief serologist at the medical examiner's
office, who had worked up a quick analysis, less than twenty-four
hours after getting the evidence found at the scene of Annika's
assault. These tentative findings would later be validated with
further testing. This first run wouldn't hold up in court, but it
would give us an immediate idea if there was evidence of
value.

"Yeah, we picked up those four cigarette butts from the stoop in
front of the building. You find something?"

Thaler gave him an answer, which caused Mercer to turn and wink at
me. Good news, I assumed.

But their conversation went on, and as he listened, Mercer's smile
faded to a serious expression, almost an angry one. He hung up the
phone, dropped it on the seat between us, and accelerated onto the
FDR Drive.

"There's that word 'lucky' again. I was afraid we were hopeless on
the serology because there was no semen. Thaler's got Annika's
blood on one of the cigarette stubs. That's why he wanted to know
where we found them. Looks like the guy stepped on it on his way
out of the building, with wet fluid still in the creases of his
shoes from where he dropped her on the landing."

"You heard something else you didn't like."

"They were able to work up a profile from the saliva on the same
butt, too. I'd say it's our man, without a doubt."

It would be a stretch for Mercer to get excited about a random item
that wasn't even found inside the apartment hallway, where the
crime occurred. He knew better.

"Didn't you just say there were four -- "

"I'm not talking about a foreign profile, Alex. It's a very
familiar one. Three of the cigarettes are useless. The butt with
both blood and saliva on it was dropped there -- maybe on his way
up the steps when he spotted his prey -- by someone you and I
haven't seen in a very long time."

"We know him?" Someone we sent away who got out of jail, I expected
Mercer to tell me. Someone we'd put away who was back to haunt us.
A paroled convict who would be easy to track down through new sex
offender monitoring laws. The surprise chance of something breaking
in our favor so early shot through me like a burst of
adrenaline.

"If I knew who he was, if I could tell you his name, then I
wouldn't be cruising you downtown right now. I'd be knocking on his
door and throwing the cuffs on him tonight," he said. "The bastard
beat us cold four years ago then disappeared long enough for me to
begin to believe he'd come to his own violent end. Now here he is
again, obviously more dangerous than before."

"You think you know -- ?"

"I do know, Alex. Thaler just confirmed it for me. The Silk
Stocking Rapist is back in business."

Excerpted from ENTOMBED © Copyright 2005 by Linda
Fairstein. Reprinted with permission by Pocket Star, an imprint of
Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

Entombed
by by Linda Fairstein

  • paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Star
  • ISBN-10: 0743482271
  • ISBN-13: 9780743482271