Read an Excerpt
Die For Me
By Karen Rose
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2007 Karen Rose Hafer
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePhiladelphia, Sunday, January 14, 10:25 A.M.
Detective Vito Ciccotelli got out of his truck, his skin still vibrating. The beat-up old dirt road that led to the crime scene had only served to further rile his already churning stomach. He sucked in a breath and immediately regretted it. After fourteen years on the force, the odor of death still came as a putrid and unwelcome surprise.
"That shot my shocks to holy hell." Nick Lawrence grimaced, slamming the door of his sensible sedan. "Shit." His Carolina drawl drew the curse out to four full syllables.
Two uniforms stood staring down into a hole halfway across the snow-covered field. Handkerchiefs covered their faces. A woman was crouched down in the hole, the top of her head barely visible. "I guess CSU's already uncovered the body," Vito said dryly.
"Y'think?" Nick bent down and shoved the cuffs of his pants into the cowboy boots he kept polished to a spit shine. "Well, Chick, let's get this show on the road."
"In a minute." Vito reached behind his seat for his snow boots, then flinched when a thorn jabbed deep into his thumb. "Dammit." For a few seconds he sucked on the tiny wound, then with care moved the bouquet of roses out of the way to get to his boots. From the corner ofhis eye he could see Nick sober. But his partner said nothing.
"It's been two years. Today," Vito added bitterly. "How time flies."
Nick's voice was quiet. "It's supposed to heal, too."
And Nick was right. Two years had dulled the edge of Vito's grief. But guilt ... that was a different matter entirely. "I'm going out to the cemetery this afternoon."
"You want me to go with you?"
"Thanks, but no." Vito shoved his feet into his boots. "Let's go see what they found."
Six years as a homicide detective had taught Vito that there were no simple murders, just varying degrees of hard ones. As soon as he stopped at the edge of the grave the crime scene unit had just unearthed in the snow-covered field, he knew this would be one of the harder ones.
Neither Vito nor Nick said a word as they studied the victim, who might have remained hidden forever were it not for an elderly man and his metal detector. The roses, the cemetery, and everything else was pushed aside as Vito focused on the body in the hole. He dragged his gaze from her hands to what was left of her face.
Their Jane Doe had been small, five-two or five-three, and appeared to have been young. Short, dark hair framed a face too decomposed to be easily identifiable and Vito wondered how long she'd been here. He wondered if anyone had missed her. If anyone still waited for her to come home.
He felt the familiar surge of pity and sadness and pushed it to the edge of his mind along with all the other things he wanted to forget. For now he'd focus on the body, the evidence. Later, he and Nick would consider the woman-who she'd been and who she'd known. They'd do so as a means to catch the sick sonofabitch who'd left her nude body to rot in an unmarked grave in an open field, who'd violated her even after death. Pity shifted to outrage as Vito's gaze returned to the victim's hands.
"He posed her," Nick murmured beside him and in the soft words Vito heard the same outrage he felt. "He fucking posed her."
Indeed he had. Her hands were pressed together between her breasts, her fingertips pointing to her chin. "Permanently folded in prayer," Vito said grimly.
"Religious murderer?" Nick mused.
"God, I hope not." A buzz of apprehension tickled his spine. "Religious murderers tend not to stop with just one. There could be more."
"Maybe." Nick crouched down to peer into the grave which was about three feet deep. "How did he permanently pose her hands, Jen?"
CSU Sergeant Jen McFain looked up, her eyes covered with goggles, her nose and mouth by a mask. "Wire," she said. "Looks like steel, but very fine. It's wound around her fingers. You'll be able to see it better once the ME cleans her up."
Vito frowned. "Doesn't seem like wire that thin would be enough to trip the sensor on a metal detector, especially under a couple feet of dirt."
"You're right, the wire wouldn't have set it off. For that we can thank the rods your perp ran under the victim's arms." Jen traced one gloved finger along the underside of her own arm, down to her wrist. "They're thin and bendable, but have enough mass to set off a metal detector. It's how he kept her arms fixed in position."
Vito shook his head. "Why?" he asked and Jen shrugged.
"Maybe we'll get more from the body. I haven't gotten much from the hole so far. Except ..." She nimbly climbed from the grave. "The old man uncovered one of her arms using his garden spade. Now, he's in pretty good shape, but even I couldn't have dug that deep with a garden spade this time of year."
Nick looked into the grave. "The ground must not have been frozen."
Jen nodded. "Exactly. When he found the arm he stopped digging and called 911. When we got here, we started moving dirt to see what we had. The fill was easy to move until we got to the grave wall, then it was hard as a rock. Look at the corners. They look like they were cut using a T square. They're frozen solid."
Vito felt a sick tug at his gut. "He dug the grave before the ground froze. He planned this pretty far in advance."
Nick was frowning. "And nobody noticed a gaping hole?"
"Perp might've covered it with something," Jen said. "Also, I don't think the fill dirt came from this field. I'll run the tests to tell you for sure. That's all I got for now. I can't do anything more until the ME gets here."
"Thanks, Jen," Vito said. "Let's talk to the property owner," he said to Nick.
Harlan Winchester was about seventy, but his eyes were clear and sharp. He'd been waiting in the back seat of the police cruiser and got out when he saw them coming. "I suppose I'll have to tell you detectives the same thing I told the officers."
Vito put a little sympathy into his nod. "I'm afraid so. I'm Detective Ciccotelli and this is my partner, Detective Lawrence. Can you take us through what happened?"
"Hell, I didn't even want that damn metal detector. It was a present from my wife. She's worried I don't get enough exercise since I retired."
"So you got out this morning and walked?" Vito prompted and Winchester scowled.
"'Harlan P. Winchester,'" he mimicked in a high, nasal voice, "'you've been in that good-for-nothin' chair for the last ten years. Get your moldy butt up and walk.' So I did, 'cause I couldn't stand to listen to her nag me anymore. I thought I might find something interesting to make Ginny shut up. But ... I never dreamed I'd find a person."
"Was the body the first object your detector picked up?" Nick asked.
"Yeah." His mouth set grimly. "I took out my garden spade. It was then I thought about how hard the ground would be. I didn't think I'd be able to break the surface, much less dig deep. I almost put my spade away before I started, but I'd only been gone fifteen minutes and Ginny would have nagged me some more. So I started digging." He closed his eyes, swallowed hard, his bravado gone like so much mist. "My spade ... it hit her arm. So I stopped digging and called 911."
"Can you tell us a little more about this land?" Vito asked. "Who has access to it?"
"Anybody with an ATV or four-wheel drive, I guess. You can't see this field from the highway and the little drive that connects to the main road isn't even paved."
Vito nodded, grateful he'd driven his truck, leaving his Mustang parked safely in his garage alongside his bike. "It's definitely a rugged road. How do you get back here?"
"Today I walked." He pointed to the tree line where a single set of footprints emerged. "But this was the first time I've been back here. We only moved in a month ago. This land was my aunt's," he explained. "She died and left it to me."
"So, did your aunt come out to this field often?"
"I wouldn't think so. She was a recluse, never left the house. That's all I know."
"Sir, you've been a big help," Vito said. "Thank you."
Winchester's shoulders sagged. "Then I can go home?"
"Sure. The officers will drive you home."
Winchester got in the cruiser and it headed out, passing a gray Volvo on its way in. The Volvo parked behind Nick's sedan and a trim woman in her midfifties got out and started across the field. ME Katherine Bauer was here. It was time to face Jane Doe.
Vito started toward the grave, but Nick didn't move. He was looking at Winchester's metal detector sitting inside the CSU van. "We should check the rest of the field, Chick."
"You think there are more."
"I think we can't leave until we know there aren't."
Another shiver of apprehension raced down Vito's back. In his heart he already knew what they would find. "You're right. Let's see what else is out there."
Sunday, January 14, 10:30 A.M.
"Everybody's eyes closed?" Sophie Johannsen frowned at her graduate students in the darkness. "Bruce, you're peeking," she said.
"I'm not peeking," he grumbled. "Besides, it's too dark to see anything anyway."
"Hurry up," Marta said impatiently. "Turn on the lights."
Sophie flicked on the lights, savoring the moment. "I give you ... the Great Hall."
For a moment no one said a word. Then Spandan let out a low whistle that echoed off the ceiling, twenty feet above their heads.
Bruce's face broke into a grin. "You did it. You finally finished it."
Marta's jaw squared. "It's nice."
Sophie blinked at the younger woman's terse tone, but before she could say a word she heard the soft whir of John's wheelchair as he passed her to stare up at the far wall. "You did all this yourself," he murmured, looking around in his quiet way. "Awesome."
Sophie shook her head. "Not nearly by myself. You all helped, cleaning swords and armor and helping me plan the sword display. This was definitely a group effort."
Last fall, all fifteen members of her Weapons and Warfare graduate seminar had been enthusiastic volunteers at the Albright Museum of History, where Sophie spent her days. Now she was down to these faithful four. They'd come every Sunday for months, giving their time. They earned class credit, but more valuable was the opportunity to touch the medieval treasures their classmates could only view through glass.
Sophie understood their fascination. She also knew that holding a fifteenth-century sword in a sterile museum was but a shadow of the thrill of unearthing that sword herself, of brushing away the dirt, exposing a treasure no eyes had seen in five hundred years. Six months ago as a field archeologist in southern France, she'd lived for that rush, waking every morning wondering what buried treasure she'd find at the dig that day. Now, as the Albright Museum's head curator, she could only touch the treasures unearthed by others. Touching them, caring for them would have to be enough for now.
And as hard as it had been to walk away from the French dig of her dreams, every time she sat at her grandmother's side as she lay in a nursing-home bed, Sophie knew she'd made the right choice.
Moments like this, seeing the pride on the faces of her students, made her choice easier to bear, too. With pride of her own, Sophie admired what they'd accomplished. Large enough to easily accommodate groups of thirty or more, the new Great Hall was a spectacular sight. Against the far wall, three suits of armor stood at attention under a display of one hundred swords, arranged in a woven lattice pattern. War banners hung on the left wall, and on the right wall she'd mounted the Houarneau tapestry, one of the jewels of the collection amassed by Theodore Albright I during his brilliant archeological career.
Standing in front of the tapestry, Sophie took a moment to enjoy looking at it. The twelfth-century Houarneau tapestry, like all the other treasures in the Albright collection, never failed to steal her breath away. "Wow," she murmured.
"'Wow?'" Bruce shook his head with a smile. "Dr. J, you should be able to think of a better word than that, in any one of a dozen languages."
"Only ten," she corrected and watched him roll his eyes. For Sophie, the study of language had always been a practical pleasure. Fluency in ancient languages enabled her research, but more, she loved the fluid rhythm and nuance of words themselves. She'd had few opportunities to use her skill since coming home and she missed it.
So, still admiring the tapestry, she indulged herself. "C'est incroyable." The French flowed through her mind like a welcome melody, which was no surprise. Excepting a few short visits back to Philly, Sophie had made France her home for the last fifteen years. Other languages required more conscious effort, but still her mind skimmed easily. Greek, German, Russian ... she picked the words like flowers from a field. "Katapliktikos. Hat was. O moy bog."
Marta raised a brow. "And all that translated, means?"
Sophie's lips curved. "Essentially ... wow." She took another satisfied look around. "It's been a huge hit with tour groups." Her smile dimmed. Just thinking about the tours, or more specifically the tour guides, was enough to suck the joy right out of her day. John turned his chair so he could stare up at the swords. "You did this so fast."
She set the unpleasant tours aside in her mind. "The trick was Bruce's computer-generated mockup. It showed where to place the supports, and once that was done mounting the swords was easy. It looks as authentic as any display I've ever seen in any castle anywhere." She aimed a smile of appreciation toward Bruce. "Thank you."
Bruce beamed. "And the paneling? I thought you were going with painted walls."
Once again her smile dimmed. "I was overruled on that. Ted Albright insisted that the wood would make the place look more like a true hall and not a museum."
"He was right," Marta said, her lips pursed tightly. "It looks better."
"Yeah, well maybe it does, but he also cleaned out my operating budget for this year," Sophie said, annoyed. "I had a list of new acquisitions that I now can't afford. We couldn't even afford to have the damn paneling installed." She looked at her abused hands, nicked and scraped. "While you all were back home sleeping until noon and pigging out on turkey leftovers, I was here with Ted Albright every day, putting up all this paneling. God, what a nightmare. Do you know how high these walls are?"
The whole paneling debacle had been the source of yet another argument with Ted "the Third" Albright. Ted was the only grandson of the great archeologist, which unfortunately made him the sole owner of the Albright collection. He was also the owner of the museum, which unfortunately made him Sophie's boss. She rued the day she'd ever heard of Ted Albright and his Barnum and Bailey approach to running a museum, but until a position opened up in one of the other museums, this job was it.
Marta turned to look at her, her eyes cold and ... disappointed. "Spending two weeks alone with Ted Albright doesn't sound like a hardship. He's an attractive man," she added, her tone acidic. "I'm surprised you managed to get any work done at all."
Uncomfortable silence filled the room as Sophie stood, shocked and staring at the woman she'd mentored for four months. This can't be happening again. But it was.
The men exchanged looks of wary confusion, but Sophie knew exactly what Marta was saying, exactly what she'd heard. The disappointment she'd seen in Marta's eyes now made sense. Rage and denial screamed through Sophie's mind, but she decided to address the current insinuation and leave the past covered, for now.
"Ted's married, Marta. And just so you can set the record straight, we weren't alone. Ted's wife, son, and daughter were working with us the whole time."
Maintaining her icy stare, Marta said nothing. Awkwardly Bruce blew out a breath. "So," he said. "Last semester we revamped the Great Hall. What's next, Dr. J?"
Ignoring the churning of her stomach, Sophie led the group to the exhibition area beyond the Great Hall. "The next project is redoing the weapons exhibit."
"Yes." Spandan socked the air. "Finally. This is what I've been waiting for."
"Then your wait is over." Sophie stopped at the glass display cabinet that held a half-dozen very rare medieval swords. The Houarneau tapestry was exquisite, but these weapons were her favorite items of the entire Albright collection.
"I always wonder who owned them," Bruce said softly. "Who fought with them."
Excerpted from Die For Me by Karen Rose Copyright © 2007 by Karen Rose Hafer. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.