Naked in Death – J.D. Robb

She woke in the dark. Through the slats on the window shades, the first murky hint of dawn slipped, slanting shadowy bars over the bed. It was like waking in a cell. For a moment she simply lay there, shuddering, imprisoned, while the dream faded. After ten years on the force, Eve still had dreams. Six hours before, she’d killed a man, had watched death creep into his eyes. It wasn’t the first time she’d exercised maximum force, or dreamed. She’d learned to accept the action and the consequences. But it was the child that haunted her. The child she hadn’t been in time to save. The child whose screams had echoed in the dreams with her own. All the blood, Eve thought, scrubbing sweat from her face with her hands. Such a small little girl to have had so much blood in her. And she knew it was vital that she push it aside. Standard departmental procedure meant that she would spend the morning in Testing.

Any officer whose discharge of weapon resulted in termination of life was required to undergo emotional and psychiatric clearance before resuming duty. Eve considered the tests a mild pain in the ass. She would beat them, as she’d beaten them before. When she rose, the overheads went automatically to low setting, lighting her way into the bath. She winced once at her reflection. Her eyes were swollen from lack of sleep, her skin nearly as pale as the corpses she’d delegated to the ME. Rather than dwell on it, she stepped into the shower, yawning. “Give me one oh one degrees, full force,” she said and shifted so that the shower spray hit her straight in the face. She let it stream, lathered listlessly while she played through the events of the night before. She wasn’t due in Testing until nine, and would use the next three hours to settle and let the dream fade away completely.

Small doubts and little regrets were often detected and could mean a second and more intense round with the machines and the owl-eyed technicians who ran them. Eve didn’t intend to be off the streets longer than twenty-four hours. After pulling on a robe, she walked into the kitchen and programmed her AutoChef for coffee, black; toast, light. Through her window she could hear the heavy hum of air traffic carrying early commuters to offices, late ones home. She’d chosen the apartment years before because it was in a heavy ground and air pattern, and she liked the noise and crowds. On another yawn, she glanced out the window, followed the rattling journey of an aging airbus hauling laborers not fortunate enough to work in the city or by homelinks. She brought the New York Times up on her monitor and scanned the headlines while the faux caffeine bolstered her system. The AutoChef had burned her toast again, but she ate it anyway, with a vague thought of springing for a replacement unit. She was frowning over an article on a mass recall of droid cocker spaniels when her tele-link blipped. Eve shifted to communications and watched her commanding officer flash onto the screen.

“Commander.” “Lieutenant.” He gave her a brisk nod, noted the still wet hair and sleepy eyes. “Incident at Twenty-seven West Broadway, eighteenth floor. You’re primary.” Eve lifted a brow. “I’m on Testing. Subject terminated at twenty-two thirty-five.” “We have override,” he said, without inflection. “Pick up your shield and weapon on the way to the incident.

Code Five, lieutenant.” “Yes, sir.” His face flashed off even as she pushed back from the screen. Code Five meant she would report directly to her commander, and there would be no unsealed interdepartmental reports and no cooperation with the press. In essence, it meant she was on her own. Broadway was noisy and crowded, a party where rowdy guests never left. Street, pedestrian, and sky traffic were miserable, choking the air with bodies and vehicles. In her old days in uniform she remembered it as a hot spot for wrecks and crushed tourists who were too busy gaping at the show to get out of the way. Even at this hour there was steam rising from the stationary and portable food stands that offered everything from rice noodles to soydogs for the teeming crowds. She had to swerve to avoid an eager merchant on his smoking Glida-Grill, and took his flipped middle finger as a matter of course.

Eve double-parked and, skirting a man who smelled worse than his bottle of brew, stepped onto the sidewalk. She scanned the building first, fifty floors of gleaming metal that knifed into the sky from a hilt of concrete. She was propositioned twice before she reached the door. Since this five-block area of Broadway was affectionately termed Prostitute’s Walk, she wasn’t surprised. She flashed her badge for the uniform guarding the entrance. “Lieutenant Dallas.” “Yes, sir.” He skimmed his official compu-seal over the door to keep out the curious, then led the way to the bank of elevators. “Eighteenth floor,” he said when the doors swished shut behind them. “Fill me in, officer.

” Eve switched on her recorder and waited. “I wasn’t first on the scene, lieutenant. Whatever happened upstairs is being kept upstairs. There’s a badge inside waiting for you. We have a Homicide, and a Code Five in number Eighteen-oh-three.” “Who called it in?” “I don’t have that information.” He stayed where he was when the elevator opened. Eve stepped out and was alone in a narrow hallway. Security cameras tilted down at her and her feet were almost soundless on the worn nap of the carpet as she approached 1803. Ignoring the handplate, she announced herself, holding her badge up to eye level for the peep cam until the door opened.

” Dallas.” “Feeney.” She smiled, pleased to see a familiar face. Ryan Feeney was an old friend and former partner who’d traded the street for a desk and a top level position in the Electronics Detection Division. “So, they’re sending computer pluckers these days.” “They wanted brass, and the best.” His lips curved in his wide, rumpled face, but his eyes remained sober. He was a small, stubby man with small, stubby hands and rustcolored hair. “You look beat.” “Rough night.

” “So I heard.” He offered her one of the sugared nuts from the bag he habitually carried, studying her, and measuring if she was up to what was waiting in the bedroom beyond. She was young for her rank, barely thirty, with wide brown eyes that had never had a chance to be naive. Her doe-brown hair was cropped short, for convenience rather than style, but suited her triangular face with its razor-edge cheekbones and slight dent in the chin. She was tall, rangy, with a tendency to look thin, but Feeney knew there were solid muscles beneath the leather jacket. More, there was a brain, and a heart. “This one’s going to be touchy, Dallas.” “I picked that up already. Who’s the victim?” “Sharon DeBlass, granddaughter of Senator DeBlass.” Neither meant anything to her.

“Politics isn’t my forte, Feeney.” “The gentleman from Virginia, extreme right, old money. The granddaughter took a sharp left a few years back, moved to New York, and became a licensed companion.” “She was a hooker.” Dallas glanced around the apartment. It was furnished in obsessive modern – glass and thin chrome, signed holograms on the walls, recessed bar in bold red. The wide mood screen behind the bar bled with mixing and merging shapes and colors in cool pastels. Neat as a virgin, Eve mused, and cold as a whore. “No surprise, given her choice of real estate.” “Politics makes it delicate.

Victim was twenty-four, Caucasian female. She bought it in bed.” Eve only lifted a brow. “Seems poetic, since she’d been bought there. How’d she die?” “That’s the next problem. I want you to see for yourself.” As they crossed the room, each took out a slim container, sprayed their hands front and back to seal in oils and fingerprints. At the doorway, Eve sprayed the bottom of her boots to slicken them so that she would pick up no fibers, stray hairs, or skin. Eve was already wary. Under normal circumstances there would have been two other investigators on a homicide scene, with recorders for sound and pictures.

Forensics would have been waiting with their usual snarly impatience to sweep the scene. The fact that only Feeney had been assigned with her meant that there were a lot of eggshells to be walked over. “Security cameras in the lobby, elevator, and hallways,” Eve commented. “I’ve already tagged the discs.” Feeney opened the bedroom door and let her enter first. It wasn’t pretty. Death rarely was a peaceful, religious experience to Eve’s mind. It was the nasty end, indifferent to saint and sinner. But this was shocking, like a stage deliberately set to offend. The bed was huge, slicked with what appeared to be genuine satin sheets the color of ripe peaches.

Small, soft focused spotlights were trained on its center where the naked woman was cupped in the gentle dip of the floating mattress. The mattress moved with obscenely graceful undulations to the rhythm of programmed music slipping through the headboard. She was beautiful still, a cameo face with a tumbling waterfall of flaming red hair, emerald eyes that stared glassily at the mirrored ceiling, long, milk white limbs that called to mind visions of Swan Lake as the motion of the bed gently rocked them. They weren’t artistically arranged now, but spread lewdly so that the dead woman formed a final X dead center of the bed. There was a hole in her forehead, one in her chest, another horribly gaping between the open thighs. Blood had splattered on the glossy sheets, pooled, dripped, and stained. There were splashes of it on the lacquered walls, like lethal paintings scrawled by an evil child. So much blood was a rare thing, and she had seen much too much of it the night before to take the scene as calmly as she would have preferred. She had to swallow once, hard, and force herself to block out the image of a small child. “You got the scene on record?” “Yep.

” “Then turn that damn thing off.” She let out a breath after Feeney located the controls that silenced the music. The bed flowed to stillness. “The wounds,” Eve murmured, stepping closer to examine them. “Too neat for a knife. Too messy for a laser.” A flash came to her – old training films, old videos, old viciousness. “Christ, Feeney, these look like bullet wounds.” Feeney reached into his pocket and drew out a sealed bag. “Whoever did it left a souvenir.

” He passed the bag to Eve. “An antique like this has to go for eight, ten thousand for a legal collection, twice that on the black market.” Fascinated, Eve turned the sealed revolver over in her hand. “It’s heavy,” she said half to herself. “Bulky.” “Thirty-eight caliber,” he told her. “First one I’ve seen outside of a museum. This one’s a Smith Wesson, Model Ten, blue steel.” He looked at it with some affection. “Real classic piece, used to be standard police issue up until the latter part of the twentieth.

They stopped making them in about twenty-two, twenty-three, when the gun ban was passed.” “You’re the history buff.” Which explained why he was with her. “Looks new.” She sniffed through the bag, caught the scent of oil and burning. “Somebody took good care of this. Steel fired into flesh,” she mused as she passed the bag back to Feeney. “Ugly way to die, and the first I’ve seen it in my ten years with the department.” “Second for me. About fifteen years ago, Lower East Side, party got out of hand.

Guy shot five people with a twenty-two before he realized it wasn’t a toy. Hell of a mess.” “Fun and games,” Eve murmured. “We’ll scan the collectors, see how many we can locate who own one like this. Somebody might have reported a robbery.” “Might have.” “It’s more likely it came through the black market.” Eve glanced back at the body. “If she’s been in the business for a few years, she’d have discs, records of her clients, her trick books.” She frowned.

“With Code Five, I’ll have to do the door-to-door myself. Not a simple sex crime,” she said with a sigh. “Whoever did it set it up. The antique weapon, the wounds themselves, almost ruler straight down the body, the lights, the pose. Who called it in, Feeney?” “The killer.” He waited until her eyes came back to him. “From right here. Called the station. See how the bedside unit’s aimed at her face? That’s what came in. Video, no audio.

” “He’s into showmanship.” Eve let out a breath. “Clever bastard, arrogant, cocky. He had sex with her first. I’d bet my badge on it. Then he gets up and does it.” She lifted her arm, aiming, lowering it as she counted off, “One, two, three.” “That’s cold,” murmured Feeney. “He’s cold. He smooths down the sheets after.

See how neat they are? He arranges her, spreads her open so nobody can have any doubts as to how she made her living. He does it carefully, practically measuring, so that she’s perfectly aligned. Center of the bed, arms and legs equally apart. Doesn’t turn off the bed ’cause it’s part of the show. He leaves the gun because he wants us to know right away he’s no ordinary man. He’s got an ego. He doesn’t want to waste time letting the body be discovered eventually. He wants it now. That instant gratification.” “She was licensed for men and women,” Feeney pointed out, but Eve shook her head.

“It’s not a woman. A woman wouldn’t have left her looking both beautiful and obscene. No, I don’t think it’s a woman. Let’s see what we can find. Have you gone into her computer yet?” “No. It’s your case, Dallas. I’m only authorized to assist.” “See if you can access her client files.” Eve went to the dresser and began to carefully search drawers. Expensive taste, Eve reflected.

There were several items of real silk, the kind no simulation could match. The bottle of scent on the dresser was exclusive, and smelled, after a quick sniff, like expensive sex. The contents of the drawers were meticulously ordered, lingerie folded precisely, sweaters arranged according to color and material. The closet was the same. Obviously the victim had a love affair with clothes and a taste for the best and took scrupulous care of what she owned. And she’d died naked. “Kept good records,” Feeney called out. “It’s all here. Her client list, appointments – including her required monthly health exam and her weekly trip to the beauty salon. She used the Trident Clinic for the first and Paradise for the second.

” “Both top of the line. I’ve got a friend who saved for a year so she could have one day for the works at Paradise. Takes all kinds.” “My wife’s sister went for it for her twenty-fifth anniversary. Cost damn near as much as my kid’s wedding. Hello, we’ve got her personal address book.” “Good. Copy all of it, will you, Feeney?” At his low whistle, she looked over her shoulder, glimpsed the small gold-edged palm computer in his hand. “What?” “We’ve got a lot of high-powered names in here. Politics, entertainment, money, money, money.

Interesting, our girl has Roarke’s private number.” “Roarke who?” “Just Roarke, as far as I know. Big money there. Kind of guy that touches shit and turns it into gold bricks. You’ve got to start reading more than the sports page, Dallas.” “Hey, I read the headlines. Did you hear about the cocker spaniel recall?” “Roarke’s always big news,” Feeney said patiently. “He’s got one of the finest art collections in the world. Arts and antiques,” he continued, noting when Eve clicked in and turned to him. “He’s a licensed gun collector.

Rumor is he knows how to use them.” “I’ll pay him a visit.” “You’ll be lucky to get within a mile of him.” “I’m feeling lucky.” Eve crossed over to the body to slip her hands under the sheets. “The man’s got powerful friends, Dallas. You can’t afford to so much as whisper he’s linked to this until you’ve got something solid.” “Feeney, you know it’s a mistake to tell me that.” But even as she started to smile, her fingers brushed something between cold flesh and bloody sheets. “There’s something under her.

” Carefully, Eve lifted the shoulder, eased her fingers over. “Paper,” she murmured. “Sealed.” With her protected thumb, she wiped at a smear of blood until she could read the protected sheet. ONE OF SIX “It looks hand printed,” she said to Feeney and held it out. “Our boy’s more than clever, more than arrogant. And he isn’t finished.” Eve spent the rest of the day doing what would normally have been assigned to drones. She interviewed the victim’s neighbors personally, recording statements, impressions. She managed to grab a quick sandwich from the same Glida-Grill she’d nearly smashed before, driving across town.

After the night and the morning she’d put in, she could hardly blame the receptionist at Paradise for looking at her as though she’d recently scraped herself off the sidewalk. Waterfalls played musically among the flora in the reception area of the city’s most exclusive salon. Tiny cups of real coffee and slim glasses of fizzling water or champagne were served to those lounging on the cushy chairs and settees. Headphones and discs of fashion magazines were complementary. The receptionist was magnificently breasted, a testament to the salon’s figure sculpting techniques. She wore a snug, short outfit in the salon’s trademark red, and an incredible coif of ebony hair coiled like snakes. Eve couldn’t have been more delighted. “I’m sorry,” the woman said in a carefully modulated voice as empty of expression as a computer. “We serve by appointment only.” “That’s okay.

” Eve smiled and was almost sorry to puncture the disdain. Almost. “This ought to get me one.” She offered her badge. “Who works on Sharon DeBlass?” The receptionist’s horrified eyes darted toward the waiting area. “Our clients’ needs are strictly confidential.” “I bet.” Enjoying herself, Eve leaned companionably on the U-shaped counter. “I can talk nice and quiet, like this, so we understand each other – Denise?” She flicked her gaze down to the discreet studded badge on the woman’s breast. “Or I can talk louder, so everyone understands.

If you like the first idea better, you can take me to a nice quiet room where we won’t disturb any of your clients, and you can send in Sharon DeBlass’s operator. Or whatever term you use.” “Consultant,” Denise said faintly. “If you’ll follow me.” “My pleasure.” And it was. Outside of movies or videos, Eve had never seen anything so lush. The carpet was a red cushion your feet could sink blissfully into. Crystal drops hung from the ceiling and spun light. The air smelled of flowers and pampered flesh.

She might not have been able to imagine herself there, spending hours having herself creamed, oiled, pummeled, and sculpted, but if she were going to waste such time on vanity, it would certainly have been interesting to do so under such civilized conditions. The receptionist showed her into a small room with a hologram of a summer meadow dominating one wall. The quiet sound of birdsong and breezes sweetened the air. “If you’d just wait here.” “No problem.” Eve waited for the door to close then, with an indulgent sigh, she lowered herself into a deeply cushioned chair. The moment she was seated, the monitor beside her blipped on, and a friendly, indulgent face that could only be a droid’s beamed smiles. “Good afternoon. Welcome to Paradise. Your beauty needs and your comfort are our only priorities.

Would you like some refreshment while you wait for your personal consultant?” “Sure. Coffee, black, coffee.” “Of course. What sort would you prefer? Press C on your keyboard for the list of choices.” Smothering a chuckle, Eve followed instructions. She spent the next two minutes pondering over her options, then narrowed it down to French Riviera or Caribbean Cream. The door opened again before she could decide. Resigned, she rose and faced an elaborately dressed scarecrow. Over his fuchsia shirt and plum colored slacks, he wore an open, trailing smock of Paradise red. His hair, flowing back from a painfully thin face echoed the hue of his slacks.

He offered Eve a hand, squeezed gently, and stared at her out of soft doe eyes. “I’m terribly sorry, officer. I’m baffled.” “I want information on Sharon DeBlass.” Again, Eve took out her badge and offered it for inspection. “Yes, ah, Lieutenant Dallas. That was my understanding. You must know, of course, our client data is strictly confidential. Paradise has a reputation for discretion as well as excellence.” “And you must know, of course, that I can get a warrant, Mr.

-?” “Oh, Sebastian. Simply Sebastian.” He waved a thin hand, sparkling with rings. “I’m not questioning your authority, lieutenant. But if you could assist me, your motives for the inquiry?” “I’m inquiring into the motives for the murder of DeBlass.” She waited a beat, judged the shock that shot into his eyes and drained his face of color. “Other than that, my data is strictly confidential.” “Murder. My dear God, our lovely Sharon is dead? There must be a mistake.” He all but slid into a chair, letting his head fall back and his eyes close.

When the monitor offered him refreshment, he waved a hand again. Light shot from his jeweled fingers. “God, yes. I need a brandy, darling. A snifter of Trevalli.” Eve sat beside him, took out her recorder. “Tell me about Sharon.” “A marvelous creature. Physically stunning, of course, but it went deeper.” His brandy came into the room on a silent automated cart.

Sebastian plucked the snifter and took one deep swallow. “She had flawless taste, a generous heart, rapier wit.” He turned the doe eyes on Eve again. “I saw her only two days ago.” “Professionally?” “She had a standing weekly appointment, half day. Every other week was a full day.” He whipped out a butter yellow scarf and dabbed at his eyes. ” Sharon took care of herself, believed strongly in the presentation of self.” “It would be an asset in her line of work.” “Naturally.

She only worked to amuse herself. Money wasn’t a particular need, with her family background. She enjoyed sex.” “With you?” His artistic face winced, the rosy lips pursing in what could have been a pout or pain. “I was her consultant, her confidant, and her friend,” Sebastian said stiffly and draped the scarf with casual flare over his left shoulder. “It would have been indiscreet and unprofessional for us to become sexual partners.” “So you weren’t attracted to her, sexually?” “It was impossible for anyone not to be attracted to her sexually. She… ” He gestured grandly. “Exuded sex as others might exude an expensive perfume. My God.

” He took another shaky sip of brandy. “It’s all past tense. I can’t believe it. Dead. Murdered.” His gaze shot back to Eve. “You said murdered.” “That’s right.” “That neighborhood she lived in,” he said grimly. “No one could talk to her about moving to a more acceptable location.

She enjoyed living on the edge and flaunting it all under her family’s aristocratic noses.” “She and her family were at odds?” “Oh definitely. She enjoyed shocking them. She was such a free spirit, and they so… ordinary.” He said it in a tone that indicated ordinary was more mortal a sin than murder itself. “Her grandfather continues to introduce bills that would make prostitution illegal. As if the past century hasn’t proven that such matters need to be regulated for health and crime security. He also stands against procreation regulation, gender adjustment, chemical balancing, and the gun ban.” Eve’s ears pricked. “The senator opposes the gun ban?” “It’s one of his pets.

Sharon told me he owns a number of nasty antiques and spouts off regularly about that outdated right to bear arms business. If he had his way, we’d all be back in the twentieth century, murdering each other right and left.” “Murder still happens,” Eve murmured. “Did she ever mention friends or clients who might have been dissatisfied or overly aggressive?” ” Sharon had dozens of friends. She drew people to her, like… ” He searched for a suitable metaphor, used the corner of the scarf again. “Like an exotic and fragrant flower. And her clients, as far as I know, were all delighted with her. She screened them carefully. All of her sexual partners had to meet certain standards. Appearance, intellect, breeding, and proficiency.

As I said, she enjoyed sex, in all of its many forms. She was… adventurous.” That fit with the toys Eve had unearthed in the apartment. The velvet handcuffs and whips, the scented oils and hallucinogens. The offerings on the two sets of colinked virtual reality headphones had been a shock even to Eve’s jaded system. “Was she involved with anyone on a personal level?” “There were men occasionally, but she lost interest quickly. Recently she’d spoken about Roarke. She’d met him at a party and was attracted. In fact, she was seeing him for dinner the very night she came in for her consultation. She’d wanted something exotic because they were dining in Mexico.

” “In Mexico. That would have been the night before last.” “Yes. She was just bubbling over about him. We did her hair in a gypsy look, gave her a bit more gold to the skin – full body work. Rascal Red on the nails, and a charming little temp tattoo of a red-winged butterfly on the left buttock. Twenty-four-hour facial cosmetics so that she wouldn’t smudge. She looked spectacular,” he said, tearing up. “And she kissed me and told me she just might be in love this time. ‘Wish me luck, Sebastian.’ She said that as she left. It was the last thing she ever said to me.”

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