Read an Excerpt
A tradition of murder…
Praise for Naked in Death:
A tradition of murder…
On the north side of the house was an arbor of thin, somehow fluid iron. The vines twisting and tumbling over it were smothered with flowers wildly red. She had married him there, in an old traditional ceremony where vows were exchanged and promises made. A ceremony, she thought now. A rite that included music, flowers, witnesses, words that were repeated time after time, place after place, century through century…
So it continued. Science and logic disproved, but the rites continued, incense and chanting, offerings and the drinking of wine that symbolized blood.
And the sacrifice of the innocent.
Annoyed with herself, she rubbed her hands over her face. Philosophizing was foolish and useless. Murder had been done by human force. And it was human force that would dispense justice. That was, after all, the ultimate balance of good and evil.
Praise for Naked in Death:
“Danger, romance…a masterpiece of fine writing.”
“Superbly suspenseful and strikingly original.”
This book contains a preview of J. D. Robb’s next romantic suspense novel
Vengeance in Death
BORN IN FIRE
BORN IN ICE
BORN IN SHAME
DARING TO DREAM
HOLDING THE DREAM
FINDING THE DREAM
ONCE UPON A CASTLE
(anthology with Jill Gregory, Ruth Ryan Langan,
and Marianne Willman)
FROM THE HEART (anthology)
(anthology with Susan Plunkett, Dee Holmes, and Claire Cross)
Titles written as J. D. Robb
NAKED IN DEATH
GLORY IN DEATH
IMMORTAL IN DEATH
RAPTURE IN DEATH
CEREMONY IN DEATH
VENGENCE IN DEATH
HOLIDAY IN DEATH
CONSPIRACY IN DEATH
CEREMONY IN DEATH
J. D. ROBB
BERKLEY BOOKS, NEW YORK
Death surrounded her. She faced it daily, dreamed of it nightly. Lived with it always. She knew its sounds, its scents, even its texture. She could look it in its dark and clever eye without a flinch. Death was a tricky foe, she knew. One flinch, one blink, and it could shift, it could change. It could win.
Ten years as a cop hadn’t hardened her toward it. A decade on the force hadn’t made her accept it. When she looked death in the eye, it was with the cold steel of the warrior.
Eve Dallas looked at death now. And she looked at one of her own.
Frank Wojinski had been a good cop, solid. Some would have said plodding. He’d been affable, she remembered. A man who hadn’t complained about the bilge disguised as food at the NYPSD Eatery, or the eye-searing paperwork the job generated. Or, Eve thought, about the fact that he’d been sixty-two and had never made it past the rank of detective sergeant.
He’d been on the pudgy side and had let his hair gray and thin naturally. It was a rare thing in 2058 for a man to bypass body sculpting and enhancements. Now, in his clear-sided view casket with its single spray of mournful lilies, he resembled a peacefully sleeping monk from an earlier time.
He’d been born in an earlier time, Eve mused, coming into the world at the end of one millennium and living his life in the next. He’d been through the Urban Wars, but hadn’t talked of them as so many of the older cops did. Frank hadn’t been one for war stories, she recalled. He was more likely to pass around the latest snapshot or hologram of his children and grandchildren.
He liked to tell bad jokes, talk sports, and had a weakness for soydogs with spiced pickle relish.
A family man, she thought, one who left behind great grief. Indeed, she could think of no one who had known Frank Wojinski who hadn’t loved him.
He had died with half his life still ahead of him, died alone, when the heart everyone had thought so huge and so strong had just stopped.
Eve turned, laid a hand on the arm of the man who stepped up beside her. “I’m sorry, Feeney.”
He shook his head, his droopy camel’s eyes filled with misery. With one hand he raked through his wiry red hair. “On the job would have been easier. I could handle line of duty. But to just stop. To just check out in his easy chair watching arena ball on the screen. It’s not right, Dallas. A man’s not supposed to stop living at his age.”
“I know.” Not knowing what else to do, Eve draped an arm over his shoulder and steered him away.
“He trained me. Looked after me when I was a rookie. Never let me down.” Pain radiated through him and glinted dully in his eyes, wavered in his voice. “Frank never let anyone down in his life.”
“I know,” she said again, because there was nothing else that could be said. She was accustomed to Feeney being tough and strong. The delicacy of his grief worried her.
She led him through the mourners. The viewing room was packed with cops as well as family. And where there were cops and death, there was coffee. Or what passed for it at such places. She poured a cup, handed it to him.
“I can’t get around it. I can’t get a hold of it.” He let out a long, uneven breath. He was a sturdy, compact man who wore his grief as openly as he wore his rumpled coat. “I haven’t talked to Sally yet. My wife’s with her. I just can’t do it.”
“It’s all right. I haven’t talked to her, either.” Since she had nothing to do with her hands, Eve poured a cup for herself that she didn’t intend to drink. “Everybody’s shook up by this. I didn’t know he had a heart problem.”
“Nobody did,” Feeney said quietly. “Nobody knew.”
She kept a hand on his shoulder as she scanned the overcrowded, overwarm room. When a fellow officer went down in the line of duty, cops could be angry, they could be focused, fix their target. But when death snuck in and crooked a capricious finger, there was no one to blame. And no one to punish.
It was helplessness she felt in the room and that she felt in herself. You couldn’t raise your weapon to fate, or your fist.
The funeral director, spiffy in his traditional black suit and as waxy-faced as one of his own clients, worked the room with patting hands and sober eyes. Eve thought she’d rather have a corpse sit up and grin at her than listen to his platitudes.
“Why don’t we go talk to the family together?”
It was hard for him, but Feeney nodded, set the untouched coffee aside. “He liked you, Dallas. ‘That kid’s got balls of steel and a mind to match,’ he used to tell me. He always said if he was ever jammed, you’d be the one he’d want guarding his back.”
It surprised and pleased her, and it simultaneously added to her sorrow. “I didn’t realize he thought of me that way.”
Feeney looked at her. She had an interesting face, not one he’d have called a heart-stopper, but it usually made a man look twice with its angles and sharp bones, the shallow dent in the chin. She had cop’s eyes, intense and measuring, and he often forgot they were a dark golden brown. Her hair was the same shade, cut short and badly in need of some shaping. She was tall and lean and tough-bodied.
He remembered it had been less than a month since he had come across her, battered and bloodied. But her weapon had been firm in her hand.
“He thought of you that way. So do I.” While she blinked at him, Feeney squared his hunched shoulders. “Let’s talk to Sally and the kids.”
They slipped through the crowd jammed together in a room oppressed with dark simulated wood, heavy red draperies, and the funereal smell of too many flowers crammed into too small a space.
Eve wondered why viewings of the dead were always accompanied by flowers and draping sheets of red. What ancient ceremony did it spring from, and why did the human race continue to cling to it?
She was certain that when her time came, she wouldn’t chose to be laid out for study by her loved ones and associates in an overheated room where the pervasive scent of flowers was reminiscent of rot.
Then she saw Sally, supported by her children and her children’s children, and realized such rites were for the living. The dead were beyond caring.
“Ryan.” Sally held out her hands—small, almost fairylike hands—and lifted her cheek to Feeney’s. She held there a moment, her eyes closed, her face pale and quiet.
She was a slim, soft-spoken woman who Eve had always thought of as delicate. Yet a cop’s spouse who had survived the stress of the job for more than forty years had to have steel. Against her plain black dress she wore her husband’s twenty-five-year NYPSD ring on a chain.
Another rite, Eve thought. Another symbol.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” Sally murmured.
“I’ll miss him. We’ll all miss him.” Feeney patted her back awkwardly before drawing away. Grief was in his throat, choking him. Swallowing it only lodged it cold and heavy in his gut. “You know if there’s anything…”
“I know.” Her lips curved slightly, and she gave his hand a quick and comforting squeeze before turning to Eve. “I appreciate you coming, Dallas.”
“He was a good man. A solid cop.”
“Yes, he was.” Recognizing it as high tribute, Sally managed a smile. “He was proud to serve and protect. Commander Whitney and his wife are here, and Chief Tibble. And so many others.” Her gaze drifted blindly around the room. “So many. He mattered, Frank mattered.”
“Of course he did, Sally.” Feeney shifted from foot to foot. “You, ah, know about the Survivor’s Fund.”
She smiled again, patted his hand. “We’re fine there. Don’t worry. Dallas, I don’t think you really know my family. Lieutenant Dallas, my daughter Brenda.”
Short, with rounded curves, Eve noted as they clasped hands. Dark hair and eyes, a bit heavy in the chin. Took after her father.
“My son Curtis.”
Slim, small boned, soft hands, eyes that were dry but dazed with grief.
There were five of them, the youngest a boy of about eight with a pug nose dashed with freckles. He eyed Eve consideringly. “How come you’ve got your zapper on?”
Flustered, Eve tugged her jacket over her side arm. “I came straight from Cop Central. I didn’t have time to go home and change.”
“Pete.” Curtis shot Eve an apologetic wince. “Don’t bother the lieutenant.”
“If people concentrated more on their personal and spiritual powers, weapons would be unnecessary. I’m Alice.”
A slim blonde in black stepped forward. She’d have been a stunner in any case, Eve mused, but having sprung from such basic stock, she was dazzling. Her eyes were a soft, dreamy blue, her mouth full and lush and unpainted. She wore her hair loose so that it rained straight and glossy over the shoulders of her flowing black dress. A thin silver chain fell to her waist. At the end of it was a black stone ringed in silver.
“Alice, you’re such a zip head.”
She flicked a cool glance over her shoulder toward a boy of about sixteen. But her hands kept fluttering back to the black stone, like elegant birds guarding a nest.
“My brother Jamie,” she said in a silky voice. “He still thinks name-calling deserves a reaction. My grandfather spoke of you, Lieutenant Dallas.”
“Your husband isn’t with you tonight?”
Eve arched a brow. Not just grief, she deduced, but nerves. It was easy enough to recognize. Signals as well, but they weren’t clear. The girl was after something, she mused. But what?
“No, he’s not.” She shifted her gaze back to Sally. “He sends his sympathies, Mrs. Wojinski. He’s off planet.”
“It must take a great deal of concentration and energy,” Alice interrupted, “to maintain a relationship with a man like Roarke while pursuing a demanding, difficult, even dangerous career. My grandfather used to say that once you had a grip on an investigation, you never let go. Would you say that’s accurate, Lieutenant?”
“If you let go, you lose. I don’t like to lose.” She held Alice’s odd gaze for a moment, then on impulse crouched down and whispered to Pete. “When I was a rookie, I saw your grandfather zap a guy at ten yards. He was the best.” She was rewarded with a quick grin before she straightened. “He won’t be forgotten, Mrs. Wojinski,” she said, offering her hand. “And he mattered very much to all of us.”
She started to step back, but Alice laid a hand on her arm, leaned close. The hand, Eve noted, trembled slightly. “It was interesting meeting you, Lieutenant. Thank you for coming.”
Eve inclined her head and slipped back into the crowd. Casually, she reached a hand into the pocket of her jacket and fingered the thin slip of paper Alice had pushed inside.
It took her another thirty minutes to get away. She waited until she was outside and in her vehicle before she took the note out and read it.
Meet me tomorrow, midnight. Aquarian Club.
TELL NO ONE. Your life is now at risk.
In lieu of a signature, there was a symbol, a dark line running in an expanding circle to form a sort of maze. Nearly as intrigued as she was annoyed, Eve stuffed the note back in her pocket and started home.
Because she was a cop, she saw the figure draped in black, hardly more than a shadow in the shadows. And because she was a cop, she knew he was watching her.
Whenever Roarke was away, Eve preferred to pretend the house was empty. Both she and Summerset, who served as Roarke’s chief of staff, did their best to ignore the other’s presence. The house was huge, a labyrinth of rooms, which made it a simple matter to avoid one another.
She stepped into the wide foyer, tossed her scarred leather jacket over the carved newel post because she knew it would make Summerset grind his teeth. He detested having anything mar the elegance of the house. Particularly her.
She took the stairs, but rather than go to the master bedroom, she veered off to her office suite.
If Roarke had to spend another night off planet as expected, she preferred to spend hers in her relaxation chair rather than their bed.
She often dreamed badly when she dreamed alone.
Between the late paperwork and the viewing, she hadn’t had time for a meal. Eve ordered up a sandwich—real Virginia ham on rye—and coffee that jumped with genuine caffeine. When the AutoChef delivered, she inhaled the scents slowly, greedily. She took the first bite with her eyes closed to better enjoy the miracle.
There were definite advantages to being married to a man who could afford real meat instead of its by-products and simulations.
To satisfy her curiosity, she went to her desk and engaged her computer. She swallowed ham, chased it with coffee. “All available data on subject Alice, surname unknown. Mother Brenda, née Wojinski, maternal grandparents Frank and Sally Wojinski.”
Eve drummed her fingers, took out the note and reread it while she polished off the quick meal.
Subject Alice Lingstrom. DOB June 10, 2040. First child and only daughter of Jan Lingstrom and Brenda Wojinski, divorced. Residence, 486 West Eighth Street, Apartment 4B, New York City. Sibling, James Lingstrom, DOB March 22, 2042. Education, high school graduate, valedictorian. Two semesters of college: Harvard. Major, anthropology. Minor, mythology. Third semester deferred. Currently employed as clerk, Spirit Quest, 228 West Tenth Street, New York City. Marital status, single.
Eve ran her tongue around her teeth. “Criminal record?”
No criminal record.
“Sounds fairly normal,” Eve murmured. “Data on Spirit Quest.”
Spirit Quest. Wiccan shop and consultation center, owned by Isis Paige and Charles Forte. Three years in Tenth Street location. Annual gross income one hundred twenty-five thousand dollars. Licensed priestess, herbalist, and registered hypnotherapist on site.
“Wicca?” Eve leaned back with a snort. “Witch stuff? Jesus. What kind of scam is this?”
Wicca, recognized as both a religion and a craft, is an ancient, nature-based faith which—
“Stop.” Eve blew out a breath. She wasn’t looking for a definition of witchcraft, but an explanation as to why a steady-as-a-rock cop ended up with a granddaughter who believed in casting spells and magic crystals.
And why that granddaughter wanted a secret meeting.
The best way to find out, she decided, was to show up at the Aquarian Club in a bit over twenty-four hours. She left the note on the desk. It would be easy to dismiss it, she thought, if it hadn’t been written by a relative of a man she’d respected.
And if she hadn’t seen that figure in the shadows. A figure she was sure hadn’t wanted to be seen.
She walked to the adjoining bath and began to strip. It was too bad she couldn’t take Mavis with her for the meet. Eve had a feeling the Aquarian Club would be right up her friend’s alley. Eve kicked her jeans aside, leaned over to stretch out the kinks of a long day. And wondered what she would do with the long night ahead.
She had nothing hot to work on. Her last homicide had been so open and shut that she and her aide had put it to bed in under eight hours. Maybe she’d spend a couple hours glazing out watching some screen. Or she could pick a weapon out of Roarke’s gun room and go down and run a hologram program to burn off excess energy until she could sleep.
She’d never tried one of his auto-assault rifles. It might be interesting to experience how a cop took out an enemy during the early days of the Urban Wars.
She stepped into the shower. “Full jets, on pulse,” she ordered. “Ninety-eight degrees.”
She wished she had a murder to sink her teeth into. Something that would focus her mind and drain her system. And damn it, that was pathetic. She was lonely, she realized. Desperate for a distraction, and he’d only been gone three days.
They both had their own lives, didn’t they? They’d lived them before they met and continued to live them after. The demands of both their businesses absorbed much time and attention. Their relationship worked—and that continued to surprise her—because they were both independent people.
Christ, she missed him outrageously. Disgusted with herself, she ducked her head under the spray and let it pound on her brain.
When hands slipped around her waist, then slid up to cup her breasts, she barely jolted. But her heart leaped. She knew his touch, the feel of those long, slim fingers, the texture of those wide palms. She tipped her head back, inviting a mouth to the curve of her shoulder.
“Mmm. Summerset. You wild man.”
Teeth nipped into flesh and made her chuckle. Thumbs brushed over her soapy nipples and made her moan.
“I’m not going to fire him.” Roarke trailed a hand down the center of her body.
“It was worth a shot. You’re back…” His fingers dipped expertly inside her, slick and slippery, so that she arched, moaned, and came simultaneously. “Early,” she finished on an explosive breath. “God.”
“I’d say I was just on time.” He spun her around, and while she was shuddering and blinking water out of her eyes, he covered her mouth in a long, ravenous kiss.
He’d thought about her on the interminable flight home. Thought about this, just this: touching and tasting and hearing that quick catch in her breath as he did. And here she was, naked and wet and already quivering for him.
He braced her in the corner, gripped her hips, and slowly lifted her off her feet. “Miss me?”
Her heart was thundering. He was inches away from driving into her, filling her, destroying her. “Not really.”
“Well, in that case…” He kissed her lightly on the chin. “I’ll just let you finish your shower in peace.”
In a flash, she wrapped her legs around his waist, took a firm hold of his wet mane of hair. “Try it, pal, and you’re a dead man.”
“In the interest of self-preservation then.” To torture them both, he slipped into her slowly, watched her eyes go opaque. He closed his mouth over hers again so that her shallow breaths shuddered through him.
The ride was slow and slippery, and more tender than either had expected. Climax came on a long, quiet sigh. Her lips curved against his. “Welcome home.”
She could see him now, those stunning blue eyes, the face that was both saint and sinner, the mouth of a doomed poet. His hair was streaming with water, black and sleek, just touching broad shoulders roped with subtle and surprisingly tough muscle.
Looking at him after these brief, periodic absences always made something unexpected lurch through her. She doubted she would ever get used to the fact that he not only wanted her but loved her.
She was smiling still as she combed her fingers through his thick, black hair. “Everything okay with the Olympus Resort?”
“Adjustments, some delays. Nothing that can’t be dealt with.” The elaborate space station resort and pleasure center would open on schedule, because he wouldn’t accept any less.
He ordered the jets off, then took a towel to wrap around her when she would have used the drying tube. “I began to understand why you stay in here while I’m away. I couldn’t sleep in the Presidential Suite.” He took another towel, rubbed it over her hair. “It was too lonely without you.”
She leaned against him a moment, just to feel the familiar lines of his body against hers. “We’re getting so damn sappy.”
“I don’t mind. We Irish are very sentimental.”
It made her smirk as he turned to get robes. He might have had the music of Ireland in his voice, but she seriously doubted if any of his business friends or foes would consider Roarke a sentimental man.
“No fresh bruises,” he observed, helping her into her robe before she could do it for herself. “I take that to mean you’ve had a quiet few days.”
“Mostly. We had a john get a bit overenthusiastic with a licensed companion. Choked her to death during sex.” She belted the robe, scratched fingers through her hair to scatter more water. “He got spooked and ran.” She moved her shoulders as she stepped into the office. “But he lawyered up and turned himself in a few hours later. PA took it down to manslaughter. I let Peabody handle the interview and booking.”
“Hmm.” Roarke went to a recessed cabinet for wine, poured them both a glass. “It’s been quiet then.”
“Yeah. I had that viewing tonight.”
His brow furrowed, then cleared. “Ah, yes, you told me. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it home in time to go with you.”
“Feeney’s taking it really hard. It would be easier if Frank had gone down in the line of duty.”
This time Roarke’s brow quirked. “You’d prefer that your associate had been killed rather than, say, go gently into that good night?”
“I’d just understand it better, that’s all.” She frowned into her wine. She didn’t think it wise to tell Roarke she’d prefer a fast and violent death herself. “There is something odd, though. I met Frank’s family. The oldest granddaughter’s on the weird side.”
“The way she talked, and the data I accessed on her after I got home.”
Intrigued, he lifted his wine to sip. “You ran a make on her?”
“Just a quick check. Because she passed me this.” Eve walked to the desk, picked up the note.
Roarke scanned it, considered. “Earth labyrinth.”
“The symbol here. It’s Celtic.”
Shaking her head, Eve eased closer to look again. “You know the strangest things.”
“Not so strange. I spring from the Celts, after all. The ancient labyrinth symbol is magical and sacred.”
“Well, it fits. She’s into witchcraft or something. Got herself the start of a top-flight education. Harvard. But she drops out to work in some West Village shop that sells crystals and magic herbs.”
Roarke traced the symbol with a fingertip. He’d seen it before, and others like it. During his childhood, the cults in Dublin had run the range between vicious gangs and pious pacifists. All, of course, had used religion as the excuse to kill. Or be killed.
“You have no idea why she wants to meet you?”
“None. I’d say she figures she read my aura or something. Mavis ran a mystic grift before I busted her for pinching wallets. She told me people will pay most anything if you tell them what they want to hear. More, if you tell them what they don’t want to hear.”
“Which is why cons and legitimate businesses are very much the same.” He smiled at her. “I take it you’re going, anyway.”
“Sure, I’ll follow through.”
Naturally she would. Roarke glanced at the note again, then set it aside. “I’m going with you.”
“It’s a pity what she wants.” He sipped his wine, a man accustomed to getting precisely what he wanted. One way or another. “I’ll stay out of your way, but I’m going. The Aquarian Club is basically harmless, but there are always unsavory elements that leak through.”
“Unsavory elements are my life,” she said soberly, then cocked her head. “You don’t, like, own the Aquarian, do you?”
“No.” He smiled. “Would you like to?”
She laughed and took his hand. “Come on. Let’s drink this in bed.”
Relaxed by sex and wine, she fell peacefully asleep, draped around Roarke. That’s why she was baffled to find herself suddenly and fully awake only two hours later. It hadn’t been one of her nightmares. There was no terror, no pain, no cold, clammy sweat.
Yet she had snapped awake, and her heart wasn’t quite steady. She lay still, staring up through the wide sky window over the bed, listening to Roarke’s quiet, steady breathing beside her.
She shifted, glanced down at the foot of the bed, and nearly yelped when eyes glowed out of the dark. Then she registered the weight over her ankles. Galahad, she thought and rolled her eyes. The cat had come in and jumped onto the bed. That’s what had awakened her, she told herself. That’s all it was.
She settled again, turned onto her side, and felt Roarke’s arm slide around her in sleep. On a sigh, she closed her eyes, snuggled companionably against him.
Just the cat, she thought sleepily.
But she would have sworn she’d heard chanting.
By the time Eve was elbow deep in paperwork the next morning, the odd wakefulness in the night was forgotten. New York seemed to be content to bask in the balmy days of early autumn and behave itself. It seemed like a good time to take a few hours and organize her office.
Or rather to delegate Peabody to organize it.
“How can your files be this skewed?” Peabody demanded. Her earnest, square face expressed deep remorse and disappointment.
“I know where everything is,” Eve told her. “I want you to put everything where I’ll still know where it is, but where it also makes sense for it to be. Too tough an assignment, Officer?”
“I can handle it.” Peabody rolled her eyes behind Eve’s back. “Sir.”
“Fine. And don’t roll your eyes at me. If things are a bit skewed, as you put it, it’s because I’ve had a busy year. As we’re in the last quarter of this one and I’m training you, it falls to me to dump this on you.” Eve turned and smiled thinly. “With the hope, Peabody, that you will one day have an underling to dump shit assignments on.”
“Your faith in me is touching, Dallas. Chokes me up.” She hissed at the computer. “Or maybe it’s the fact that you’ve got yellow sheets in here from five years ago that’s choking me. These should have been downloaded to the main and cleared out of your unit after twenty-four months.”
“So download and clear now.” Eve’s smile widened as the machine hacked, then droned out a warning of system failure. “And good luck.”
“Technology can be our friend. And like any friendship, it requires regular maintenance and understanding.”
“I understand it fine.” Eve stepped over, pounded her fist twice on the drive. The unit hiccupped back into running mode. “See?”
“You have a real smooth touch, Lieutenant. That’s why the guys in Maintenance shoot air darts at your picture.”
“Still? Christ, they hold a grudge.” With a shrug, Eve sat on the corner of the desk. “What do you know about witchcraft?”
“If you want to cast a spell on your machine here, Dallas, it’s a little out of my field.” Teeth clenched, she juggled and compressed files.
“You’re a Free-Ager.”
“Lapsed. Come on, come on, you can do it,” she muttered at the computer. “Besides,” she added. “Free-Agers aren’t Wiccans. They’re both earth religions, and both are based on natural orders, but…son of a bitch, where’d it go?”
“What? Where did what go?”
“Nothing.” Shoulders hunched, Peabody guarded the monitor. “Nothing. Don’t worry, I’m on it. You probably didn’t need those files, anyway.”
“Is that a joke, Peabody?”
“You bet. Ha ha.” A line of sweat dribbled down her back as she attacked the keys. “There. There it is. No problem, no problem at all. And off it goes into the main. Neat and tidy.” She let out an enormous sigh. “Could I maybe have some coffee? Just to keep alert.”
Eve shifted her gaze to the screen, saw nothing that looked ominous. Saying nothing, she rose and ordered coffee from the AutoChef.
“Why do you want to know about Wicca? You thinking of converting?” At Eve’s bland look, Peabody tried a smile. “Another joke.”
“You’re full of them today. Just curious.”
“Well, there’s some overlap on basic tenets between Wiccans and Free-Agers. A search for balance and harmony, the celebration of the seasons that goes back to ancient times, the strict code of nonviolence.”
“Nonviolence?” Eve narrowed her eyes. “What about curses, casting spells, and sacrifices? Naked virgins on the altar and black roosters getting their heads chopped off?”
“Fiction depicts witches that way. You know, ‘Double, double, toil and trouble.’ Shakespeare. Macbeth.”
Eve snorted. “‘I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too.’” The Wicked Witch of the West. Classic vid channel.
“Good one,” Peabody admitted. “But both examples feed into the most basic of misconceptions. Witches aren’t ugly, evil crones mixing up cauldrons of goop or hunting down young girls and their friendly, talking scarecrows. Wiccans like to be naked, but they don’t hurt anything or anyone. Strictly white magic.”
“As opposed to?”
Eve studied her aide. “You don’t believe in that stuff? Magic and spells?”
“Nope.” Revived with coffee, Peabody turned back to the computer. “I know some of the basics because I have a cousin who shifted to Wicca. He’s into it big time. Joined a coven in Cincinnati.”
“You’ve got a cousin in a coven in Cincinnati.” Laughing, Eve set her own coffee aside. “Peabody, you never cease to amaze me.”
“One day I’ll tell you about my granny and her five lovers.”
“Five lovers isn’t abnormal for a woman’s lifetime.”
“Not in her lifetime; last month. All at the same time.” Peabody glanced up, deadpan. “She’s ninety-eight. I hope to take after her.”
Eve swallowed her next chuckle as her tele-link beeped. “Dallas.” She watched Commander Whitney’s face swim on-screen. “Yes, Commander.”
“I’d like to speak with you, Lieutenant, in my office. As soon as possible.”
“Yes, sir. Five minutes.” Eve disengaged, shot a hopeful glance at Peabody. “Maybe we’ve got something going. Keep working on those files. I’ll contact you if we’re heading out.”
She started out, stuck her head back in. “Don’t eat my candy bar.”
“Damn,” Peabody said under her breath. “She never misses.”
Whitney had spent most of his life behind a badge and a large part of his professional life in command. He made it his business to know his cops, to judge their strengths and weaknesses. And he knew how to utilize both.
He was a big man with workingman hands and dark, keen eyes that some considered cold. His temperament, on the surface, was almost terrifyingly even. And like most smooth surfaces, it coated something dangerous brewing beneath.
Eve respected him, occasionally liked him, and always admired him.
He was at his desk when she stepped into his office, lines of concentration puckering his brow as he read over some hard copy. He didn’t glance up, merely gestured toward a chair. She sat, watched an air tram rumble by his window, baffled as always by the number of passengers with binoks and spy glasses.
What did they expect to see behind the windows where cops worked? she wondered. Suspects being tortured, weapons discharged, victims bleeding and weeping? And why would the fantasy of such misery entertain them?
“I saw you at the viewing last night.”
Eve shifted her thoughts and attention to her commander. “I imagine most every cop in Central made an appearance.”
“Frank was well-liked.”
“Yes, he was.”
“You never worked with him?”
“He gave me some pointers when I was a rookie, helped out on legwork a couple of times, but no, I never worked with him directly.”
Whitney nodded, kept his eyes on hers. “He was partnered with Feeney, before your time. You were partnered with Feeney after Frank shifted from the streets to a desk.”
She began to get an uncomfortable feeling in the gut. Something here, she thought. Something’s off. “Yes, sir. This has hit Feeney pretty hard.”
“I’m aware of that, Dallas. Which is why Captain Feeney isn’t here this morning.” Whitney propped his elbows on his desk, linked his fingers, folded his fingers over. “We have a possible situation, Lieutenant. A delicate situation.”
“Regarding DS Wojinski?”
“The information I’m going to relay to you is confidential. Your aide can be apprised per your discretion, but no one else on the force. No one in the media. I am asking you, ordering you,” he corrected, “to essentially work alone on this matter.”
The discomfort in her stomach spread into little licks of fear as she thought of Feeney. “Understood.”
“There is some question regarding the circumstances of DS Wojinski’s death.”
“You’ll require some background data.” He laid his folded hands on the edge of the desk. “It has come to my attention that DS Wojinski was either pursuing an investigation of his own off the clock or involved with illegals.”
“Drugs? Frank? Nobody was cleaner than Frank.”
Whitney didn’t so much as blink. “On September twenty-second of this year, DS Wojinski was spotted by an undercover illegals detective allegedly conducting business in a suspected chemical distribution center. The Athame is a private club, religious in theme, which offers its members group and individual ritual services and is licensed for private sexual functions. The Illegals Division has had it under investigation for nearly two years. Frank was seen making a buy.”
When Eve said nothing, Whitney drew a long breath. “This situation was subsequently reported to me. I questioned Frank, and he was not forthcoming.” Whitney hesitated, then followed through. “Frankly, Dallas, the fact that he would neither confirm nor deny, refused to explain or discuss, seemed very out of character. And it worried me. I ordered him to submit to a physical, including a drug scan, advised him to take a week’s leave. He agreed to both. The scan was, at that point, clear. Due to his record and my personal knowledge and opinion of him, I did not mark the incident in his file, but sealed it.”