Haunted in Death:In Death 22.50By: J. D. Robb
Winter could be murderous. The slick streets and icy sidewalks broke bones and cracked skulls with gleeful regularity. Plummeting temperatures froze the blood and stopped the hearts of a select few every night in the frigid misery of Sidewalk City.
Even those lucky enough to have warm, cozy homes were trapped inside by the bitter winds and icy rains. In the first two weeks of January 2060—post-holiday—bitch winter was a contributing factor to the sharp rise in domestic disturbance calls to the New York City Police and Security Department.
Even reasonably happy couples got twitchy when they were bound together long enough by the cold ropes of winter.
For Lieutenant Eve Dallas, double d’s weren’t on her plate. Unless some stir-crazy couple killed each other out of sheer boredom.
She was Homicide.
On this miserable, bone-chilling morning, she stood over the dead. It wasn’t the cold or the ice that had killed Radcliff C. Hopkins III. She couldn’t say, as yet, if the blue-tipped fingers of winter had been a contributing factor. But it was clear someone had put numerous nasty holes in Radcliff C.’s chest. And another, neatly centered on his wide forehead.
Beside her, Eve’s partner, Detective Delia Peabody, crouched for a closer look. “I’ve never seen these kinds of wounds before, outside of training vids.”
“I have. Once.”
It had been winter then, too, Eve remembered, when she’d stood over the first victim in a series of rape/murders. The gun ban had all but eliminated death by firearm, so gunshot wounds were rare. Not that people didn’t continue to kill each other habitually. But the remote violence and simplicity of a bullet into flesh and bone wasn’t often the method of choice these days.
Radcliff C. might have been done in by an antiquated method, but it didn’t make him any less dead.
“Lab boys will rub their hands together over this one,” Eve murmured. “They don’t get much call to play with ballistics.”
She was a tall woman, with a lean build inside a long black leather coat. Her face was sharp with angles, her eyes long and brown and observant. As a rare concession to the cold, she’d yanked a black watch cap over her short, usually untidy brown hair. But she’d lost her gloves again.
She continued to stand, let her partner run the gauge for time of death.
“Six wounds visible,” Eve said. “Four in the body, one in the right leg, one to the head. From the blood spatter, blood trail, it looks like he was hit first there.” She gestured a few feet away. “Force knocks him back, down, so he tries to crawl. Big guy, fleshy, with a strong look to him. He maybe had enough in him to crawl some, maybe to try to get up again.”
“Time of death, oh-two-twenty.” Peabody, her dark hair in a short, sassy flip at the base of her neck, looked up. Her square, sturdy face was cop solemn, but there was a gleam in her eye, dark as her hair. “ID confirmed. You know who he is, right?”
“Hopkins, Radcliff C. With the fussy Roman numerals after.”
“Your lack of interest in culture trivia’s showing again. His grandfather was Hop Hopkins, and made a couple of fortunes in the swinging Sixties. Nineteen-sixties. Sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. Night clubs, music venues. L.A.-based, mostly, before the big one hit California, but he had a hot spot here in New York.”
Peabody shifted her weight. “Ran hot for a couple of decades, then hit a serious patch of bad luck. The even more legendary Bobbie Bray—she was—”
“I know who Bobbie Bray was.” Eve hooked her thumbs in her pockets, rocking back on her heels as she continued to study the body, the scene. “I’m not completely oblivious to popular culture. Rock star, junkie, and a cult figure now. Vanished without a trace.”
“Yeah, well, she was his wife—third or fourth—when she poofed. Rumor and gossip figured maybe he offed her or had her done, but the cops couldn’t find enough evidence to indict. He went spooky, did the hermit thing, lost big fat piles of dough, and ended up OD’ing on his drug of choice—can’t remember what it was—right here in New York.”
Peabody pushed to her feet. “From there it’s urban legend time. Place where he OD’d was upstairs from the club, that’s where he’d holed himself up. In the luxury apartment he’d put in on the top floor. Building passed from hand to hand, but nobody could ever make a go of it. Because…”
Peabody paused now, for effect. “It’s haunted. And cursed. Anyone who’s ever tried to live there, or put a business in, suffers personal and/or physical misfortunes.”
“Number Twelve. Yeah, I’ve heard of it. Interesting.” Hands still in her pockets, Eve scanned the large, dilapidated room. “Haunted and cursed. Seems redundant. Guess maybe Radcliff C. figured on bucking that.”
“What do you mean?” Then Peabody’s jaw dropped. “This is the place? This? Oh boy. Jeez.”
“Anonymous tip does the nine-one-one. Gonna want to review that transmission, because it’s likely it was the killer. What I’ve got is the vic owned the building, was having it rehabbed, redesigned. Maybe looking for some of his grandfather’s glory days. But what’s our boy doing hanging around in a cursed, haunted building at two in the morning?”
“This is the place,” Peabody repeated, reverently now. “Number Twelve.”
“Since the addy’s Twelve East Twelfth, I’m going to go out on a limb and say, yeah. Let’s turn him.”
When they rolled the body, Eve pursed her lips. “Somebody really wanted this guy dead. Three more entry wounds on the back. Lab will confirm, but I’m thinking…”
She crossed the room toward a set of old circular iron stairs. “Standing about here, facing the attacker. Pow, pow. Takes it in the chest.” She slapped a hand on her own. “Stumbles back, goes down. The smeared blood trail tells me the vic tried crawling away, probably toward the doors.”
“Doors were locked from the inside. First on scene said,” Peabody added.
“Yeah. So he’s crawling, and the killer moves in. Pow, pow, into the back.” The sound of the shots must have blasted the air in here, Eve thought. Must have set the ears ringing. “But it’s not enough. No, we’re not finished yet. Body falls, has to be dead or dying, but it’s not enough. Turns the body over, puts the barrel of the gun to the forehead. See the burn marks around the forehead wound? Contact. I did a lot of studying up on firearms during the DeBlass case a couple years ago. Puts the barrel right against the head and pow. Coup de grace.”
Eve saw it in her head. Heard it, smelled it. “You put a gun like this.” She pressed her fingertip to her own brow. “You put it right against the skin and fire, it’s personal. You put that many steel missiles in somebody, you’re seriously pissed off.”
“Vic’s got his bright, shiny wristwatch—looks antique—his wallet—cash and credit inside—key codes, ppc, pocket ’link. Killer didn’t bother making it look like robbery.”
“We’ll run the electronics. Let’s have a look at the ’link.”
Eve took the ’link in her sealed hands, called up the last transmission. There was a whispering, windy sound, which Eve had to admit tingled her spine just a bit. The husky female voice wove through it.
Number Twelve. Two A.M. Bring it. Bring it, and we’ll party.
“Maybe robbery plays in after all.”
“Did you hear that voice?” Peabody sent a cautious look over her shoulder. “It sounded, you know, unearthly.”
“Funny, sounded computer-generated to me. But maybe that’s because I know ghosts don’t make ’link transmissions, or shoot guns. Because—and this may be news to you, Peabody—ghosts don’t exist.”
Peabody only shook her head, sagely. “Oh yeah? Tell that to my great-aunt Josie who died eight years ago and came back half a dozen times to nag my great-uncle Phil about fixing the leaky toilet in the powder room. She left him alone after he called the plumber.”
“And how much does your great-uncle Phil drink?”
“Oh, come on. People see ghosts all the time.”
“That’s because people, by and large, are whacked. Let’s work the case, Peabody. It wasn’t a ghostly finger that pulled the trigger here. Or lured the vic to an empty building in the middle of the night. Let’s do a run. Spouse, family, beneficiaries, business partners, friends, enemies. And let’s keep it to the corporeal.”
Eve reexamined the body, wondering if he’d brought whatever it was. “They can bag and tag. Start checking doors and windows. Let’s find out how the killer got out of the building. I’ll have another talk with the first on scene.”
“You want me to stay in here? To wander around in here. Alone?”
“Are you kidding?” One look at Peabody’s face told Eve her partner was absolutely serious. “Well, for God’s sake. You take the first on scene. I’ll take the building.”
“Better plan. You want crime scene in now, and the body transported?”
“Get it done.”
Eve took a visual sweep on the main floor. Maybe it had been a hot spot in the last century, but now it was derelict. She could see where some of the work had begun. Portions of the grimy walls had been stripped away to their bones to reveal the old, and certainly out-of-code, electrical wiring. Portable lights and heating units were set up, as well as stacks of materials in what seemed to be tidy and organized piles.