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A Novel of Suspense
"Don't say I didn't warn you."
FBI Agent Dan O'Reilly looked through his windshield at the large crowd milling on Fifth Avenue. It was eleven o'clock on a rainy Wednesday night in June, but the blazing spotlights from the television news vans made it feel like high noon. His companion in the car, federal prosecutor Melanie Vargas, was surveying the scene with obvious alarm. Here and there, recognizable faces stood out—celebrity reporters from the local news channels.
"You didn't warn me about this," Melanie said.
"Famous victim. You've got to expect press."
The NYPD had set up a barricade at the Seventy-ninth Street entrance to Central Park. Inside the gates, a short walk into the Ramble, a tabloid-TV personality lay dead. Suzanne Shepard, the glamorous blond scandalmonger, had been viciously raped and stabbed, and Dan and Melanie had come to view the crime scene. But after a tough year, Melanie was fighting serious burnout, and she hardly needed a high-profile case right now. Twenty minutes earlier, she'd been enjoying a romantic evening, getting hot and heavy with Dan on her living-room sofa after taking him to dinner for his birthday. She hadn't been in the market for anything like this. Then his pager started shrieking.
"Press coverage kicks everything up a notch," Melanie said. "More pressure. More scrutiny. I should never have let you drag me out here."
"Admit it. You can't say no to me."
In the semidarkness of the car, Dan smiled. He had a movie-star smile, a football-hero body, and intense blue eyes. He was right. These days,Melanie wasn't refusing him much. Which probably wasn't the smartest move mere months after she'd divorced her cheating husband, and with a little girl to raise.
"You're full of yourself, O'Reilly," she said.
Dan edged his G-car toward the barricade. Several cameramen walked backward in front of them, filming them through the car windows.
"I can't believe this. Look at these guys," Melanie said.
"Didn't you tell me your boss was pissed at you for turning down that terrorism financing case?" Dan asked.
"What choice did I have? It involved overseas travel, and I can't leave Maya."
"Bring in a big murder case," Dan said. "Bernadette'll love you again."
"You know what they say. Big cases, big problems. Little cases, little problems. No cases, no problems."
"You know what else they say. No cases, no job. Trust me, you'll be up on the dais accepting Prosecutor of the Year on this one. Then you'll thank me."
Dan rolled his window down, and they both handed over their credentials to the cop stationed there, who studied them and proceeded to consult with somebody over a walkie-talkie. After a few minutes, he handed the creds back, pulled the barricade aside, and waved them through. Melanie had pushed Maya's stroller through this very gate more times than she could count, but in the reassuring light of day. She wished mightily that she were doing that now. The park looked so different at night. Strange shadows loomed between the arcs of yellow light spilling from the lampposts, and branches flapped in the wet wind. What had happened to the old Melanie? Time was, she would've been eating this up instead of feeling the butterflies.
They drove as far as the Boathouse before the path became too narrow for the G-car to pass. A traffic jam of blue-and-whites and American-made sedans with tinted windows had all stopped at the same place, parked every which way in front of the ornate brick building. Their drivers were nowhere in sight. Slapping a police placard in the front windshield, Dan got out and came around to open Melanie's door.
"At least the service is good," she said, stepping out. He closed the door with a thud, and the sound seemed to echo in the gloom all around them.
"Not as good as what you're gonna get later. I wasn't done with you." Dan winked at her, giving her a jolt right down to her toes.
It was a warm, rainy night, and the sky above them glowed lurid orange with reflected light from the city. They passed through a gate to enter the Ramble, and the manicured park immediately turned wild and overgrown, smelling of wet earth and rotting leaves. The woods closed in on either side, so the footpath was barely wide enough for two people to walk abreast. She couldn't see more than a few feet ahead. The ground was broken and uneven, and Melanie was glad she'd chosen boots with sturdy soles. A sudden scurrying noise in the underbrush made her start.
"You okay?" Dan asked.
"Yeah. Just a squirrel."
"Or a rat. This is Central Park after all."
"Thanks a lot."
"I'd try to take him out with my Glock, but I haven't been to the range lately."
Melanie laughed. "Oh, that gives me a lot of confidence."
The path sloped upward and opened onto a vista that would have been beautiful if it weren't swarming with cops and blazing with strange artificial light. Portable klieg lamps had been set up around the edges of a ravine that dropped off precipitously from the pathway. Beyond the ravine—which measured maybe twenty feet deep by fifty feet wide—an inlet of the Central Park Lake glittered and a spectacular weeping willow swayed in the wet wind. Below, crime-scene detectives in protective white coveralls and face masks were busy photographing, bagging, marking, and sampling, their grim faces washed out to sepia hues by the glare.
Melanie and Dan came to a halt by necessity. Both the path ahead and the steep trail down into the ravine where the detectives worked were blocked off with police barricades.
"There's Brennan," Dan said. He cupped his hands around his mouth. "Yo, Butch! Up here."
A tall, stocky man standing knee-deep in the underbrush in the middle of the ravine looked up. Butch Brennan was the supervisor of the crime-scene team, an old-timer, nearing retirement now, who'd waded through oceans of gore in his day without losing his happy-go-lucky attitude. In fact, the more brutal the crime, the more cheerful Butch got. And Melanie could tell that he was smiling broadly through his face mask now as he gave them a peppy wave.Cover-up
A Novel of Suspense. Copyright © by Michele Martinez. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. <%END%>