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By RICHARD CASTLE
HYPERIONCopyright © 2012 ABC Studios
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe thing about New York City is you never know what's behind a door. Homicide Detective Nikki Heat pondered that, as she had so many times, while she parked her Crown Victoria and watched police cruiser and ambulance lights lick the storefronts on 74th off Amsterdam. She knew, for instance, the plain door to the wine shop opened into a faux cave done in soft beige and terra-cotta tones with stacked bottles nested in wall grottos fashioned of river stones imported from France. Across the street, the door of what had once been an FDR-era bank gave onto a staircase that spiraled downward to a huge array of indoor batting cages that filled with tween MLB hopefuls and kid birthday parties on weekend afternoons. But on that morning, just after 4 a.m., the most nondescript door of all, the frosted one without a sign, only a street number above it in gold and black foil stick-ons from a hardware store, would lead to one of the more unexpected interiors of the quiet block.
A uniform posted in front of the door shuffled to keep warm, silhouetted by the industrial-grade crime scene unit work light from inside that transformed the milky glass into the blinding Close Encounters portal. Nikki could see his breath from forty yards away.
She got out, and even though the air bit her nostrils and made her eyes teary, Nikki didn't button her coat against it. Instead she fanned it open with the back of her hand by rote, making sure that she had clean access to the Sig Sauer holstered underneath. And then, cold as she was, the homicide cop stopped and stood there to perform her next ritual: a pause to honor the dead she was about to meet. That small, quiet, private moment lived as a ceremonial interval Nikki Heat claimed when she arrived at every crime scene. Its purpose was simple. To reaffirm that, victim or villain, the waiting corpse was human and deserved to be respected and treated individually, not as the next stat. Nikki drew in a slow breath, and the air felt to her the same as that night a decade ago, a Thanksgiving eve, when she was home on college break and her mother was brutally stabbed to death and left on the kitchen floor. She closed her eyes for her Moment.
"Something wrong, Detective?" Moment gone. Heat turned. A taxi rolled to a stop, and its passenger was addressing her from his backseat window. She recognized him and the driver, and smiled.
"No, Randy, I'm good." Heat stepped over to the cab and shook hands with Detective Randall Feller. "You keeping out of trouble?"
"Hope not," he said with the laugh that always reminded her of John Candy. "You remember Dutch," he said, making a head nod to Detective Van Meter up front in the driver's seat. Feller and Van Meter worked undercover in the NYPD Taxi Squad, a special anti-crime task force, run out of the Special Operations Division, that roved New York's streets in customized yellow cabs. The plainclothes cops of the Taxi Squad had a foot in the old school. They were generally tough asses who took no crap and did what they wanted and went where they wanted. Taxi Dicks roamed freely to sniff out crimes in progress, although with more scientific policing had lately been assigned to target their patrols in areas where robberies, burglaries, and street crimes spiked.
The cop at the wheel rolled his window down and nodded a wordless hi, making her wonder why Van Meter had bothered to open it. "Careful, Dutch, you'll talk her ear off," said Detective Feller with the Candy chuckle again. "Lucky you, Nikki Heat, getting the middle-of-the-night call."
Dutch said, "Some folks have no manners, getting killed at this hour." Heat didn't imagine Detective Van Meter paused a lot for reflection before meeting a corpse.
"Listen," she said. "Not that I don't like standing in twenty-five degrees, but I've got a vic waiting."
"Where's your ride-along?" said Feller with more than a little interest. "The writer, what's his face?"
Feller, fishing again. Just like he did every time they crossed paths, testing to see if Rook was still in the picture. Nikki had been on Feller's radar since the night months before when she escaped from a hired killer in Rook's loft. After Heat's battle with the Texan, he and Dutch were in the first wave of cops who raced to her aid. Ever since, Feller never missed a chance to pretend he didn't know Rook's name and take a sounding on her. Heat rolled with it; she was no stranger to interest from men, even liked it if they didn't cross a line, but Feller ... In the Rom-Com he'd be more Com than Rom; the joshing brother rather than the love interest. Detective Feller was funny and good company but more for beers in the cop bar than Sancerre by candlelight. Two weeks ago she'd seen him come out of the men's room at Plug Uglies wearing a sanitary tissue ring around his neck, asking everyone if they'd also like a lobster bib.
"What's his face?" repeated Nikki. "He's off on assignment." And then to send the message, she added, "He's back at the end of this week, though." But the detective read something else in her voice.
"That a good thing or a bad thing?"
"Good thing," Heat said a little too abruptly. So she flashed a grin trying to reset her tone. "Real good." And then, to convince herself, she added, "Really good."
* * *
What Nikki found on the other side of the door was not an urban shrine to oenology with artfully stacked green bottles, nor did she hear the ping of an aluminum bat followed by the thud of a ball into padded netting. Instead, a throat-catching mixture of incense mixed with vapors from a harsh cleaning solvent rose up to greet her as she descended a flight of stairs to the basement. Behind her, Detective Van Meter moaned a low "Whoa," and as Heat rounded the landing to make her turn down the last flight, she heard Dutch and Feller snapping on gloves. Van Meter muttered to his partner, "I catch an STD down here, I'll sue till I own the damn city."
At basement level they arrived at something that only charitably could be referred to as a reception area. The crimson painted-brick walls behind the Formica counter and the Internet catalogue chairs reminded her of a small, private gym lobby, and not a very high-end one. Four doors were spaced along the far wall. They were all open. Three led into dim rooms, lit only by the spill of harsh radiance from the CSU light stands set up to illuminate the lobby during the investigation. More light, punctuated by strobe flashes came from the far doorway, where Detective Raley stood watching the activity, latexed hands by his side. He saw Nikki out of the corner of his eye and stepped out to her.
"Welcome to Plea sure Bound, Detective Heat," he said.
Copsense made Nikki scope out the other three rooms before entering the crime scene itself. She knew they'd have been cleared by Raley and the uniforms who responded first, but she poked her head in each doorway for a quick glance. All she could make out in the murkiness were the shapes of equipment and furniture of the bondage trade, and that each chamber was themed. In order: a Victorian boudoir, an animal role-play parlor, and a sensory deprivation room. In the coming hours these would be swept by CSU, and forensic evidence gathered, but for now she was satisfied with her survey. Heat took out her gloves and walked to the far doorway, where Feller and Van Meter waited deferentially behind Raley. This was her case, on her turf, and unspoken etiquette dictated she go in ahead of them.
The corpse was naked and bound at the wrists and ankles to an X-shaped vertical wooden frame known as the St. Andrew's Cross. The structure was bolted to the floor and the ceiling in the center of the room, and the dead man's body sagged downward, bent at the knees, his buttocks hovering above the linoleum. The bulk of his weight, which Heat put at almost 250 pounds, now unsupported by muscle, strained the wrist straps high over his head and pulled his arms into a taut Y.
Detective Feller whisper-sang the chorus of "YMCA" until Nikki scalded him with a glance. Chastened, he folded his arms and looked away at his partner, who shrugged.
"What have we got, Rales?" said Heat to her detective.
Raley consulted a single page of notes. "Not much, as of yet. Check it out." He swept the room with his arm. "No clothes anywhere, no ID, no nothing. After-hours cleaning crew made the discovery. They're not En glish speakers, so Ochoa's doing the honors in the office getting their statement. Prelim, though, is they say the place closes about one, sometimes two, that's when they come in. They were doing their usual janitor stuff, figuring they were all alone, and came in here, to the, ah ..."
"Torture chamber," said Nikki. "The rooms are themed. This one's for torture and humiliation." She read his look and said, "I worked vice once."
"So did I," said Raley.
"I worked it harder." Heat arched a brow and watched him blush. "So nobody else was here at the discovery. Did they see anyone leaving?"
"There's a bubble for a surveillance cam in the lobby," said Van Meter.
Raley nodded. "On it." And then he turned to Nikki. "There's a locked closet in the manager's office where the cleaners say she keeps the recorder."
"Wake up the manager," said Heat. "Tell her to bring in the key, but don't tell her about the body. Just say there was an attempted break-in. I don't want her making calls on the way here, and I want to see her reaction when she finds out."
When Raley stepped out to make the call, Heat asked the CSU technician and the police photographer if they had looked for any clothing or a wallet or ID anywhere else on the premises. She knew what the answer would be—these were professionals—but the bases had to be covered. The obvious, if thought to be too obvious, was what got overlooked and left holes in an investigation if you started assuming and stopped checking. They confirmed no clothing, ID, or other personal effects on their initial sweep.
Detective Feller said, "How about Dutch and I cruise the neighboring blocks, see if anyone who's up saw anything?"
Van Meter nodded. "At this hour not many people around, but we can hit the diners, garbage collectors, delivery trucks, what ever."
"Sure," said Detective Heat. "Appreciate the assist."
Feller gave her the puppy eyes again. "For you, Nikki? C'mon." He took out his cell phone and knelt to get an angle of the dead man's face with its camera. "Won't hurt to show this around to see if anyone knows him."
"Good thinking," she said.
On his way out Detective Feller paused. "Listen, sorry if I was out of line with the Village People thing. Just breaking the tension, you know?"
As much as she couldn't abide disrespecting a victim, she looked at him and read his embarrassment. As a veteran NYPD detective, she knew it was just misplaced cop humor and not meant to be callous. "I don't even remember it," said Heat. He smiled, gave her a head nod, and left.
* * *
Lauren Parry knelt on the floor beside the victim, and as she filled in each box in her report, the medical examiner recited to Nikki, "OK, so we have a John Doe, late forties, approximately two-fifty to two-fifty-five." The ME pointed to her nostrils. "Obvious smoker, definite drinker."
It was always tough with the Does, thought Nikki. Without a name to go on, you were hobbled at the starting gate. Precious time in the investigation would be spent just figuring out who he was.
"Preliminary TOD ...," Lauren Parry read the thermometer and continued, "... eight to ten p.m."
"That long ago? You sure?" Heat's friend looked up at her from the clipboard and stared. The detective said, "OK, so you're sure."
"Preliminarily, Nik. I'll run the usual tests when we get him down to Thirtieth Street, but for now that's a good window for you."
"Cause of death?"
"Well, you just want every little thing, don't you?" said the ME with a twinkle behind her deadpan. Then she grew pensive and turned to consider the corpse. "COD could be asphyxiation."
"That's my best first guess." Lauren stood and indicated the posture collar biting into the man's neck, drawn so tight by the strapping at the back it caused his flesh to roll over its edges. "Certainly enough to restrict the windpipe. Plus the broken blood vessels in the eyeballs are consistent with choking."
"Let's rewind. Best first guess?' " asked Heat.
"Come on, Nikki, you know I always tell you first shot is preliminary." Then Lauren Parry looked back at the body, pondering again.
"Let's just mark it 'choking' as a prelim until I do my autopsy."
Nikki knew better than to press Lauren for conjecture, just as her friend knew not to push her for speculation. "That's fine," she said, all the while knowing that her pal from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner was mulling something.
Lauren opened a plastic drawer in her kit for some swabs and resumed her testing while Nikki did what she always did at a death scene. She clasped her hands behind her and slowly walked the room, occasionally squatting or bending, eyeing the corpse from all angles. This wasn't just a ritual, it was a fundamental procedure to clear her head of all conclusions and projections. The idea was to open her mind to impressions, to just let in what ever came in and, most of all, simply to notice what she was noticing.
Her sense of the victim was that he wasn't a physically active person. The sizable roll of soft fat around his midsection suggested a lot of sitting, or at least an occupation that didn't involve movement or strength like sports, construction, or other manual labor. As with most people, the skin on his upper arms was pale compared to his forearms, but the contrast wasn't great; no farmer's tan. That told her not only that he was indoors a lot, but that he either wore long sleeves most of the time or didn't likely tend a garden or play golf at a club. Even this long after summer there would be more residual tanning. She stepped close to examine his hands, being careful not to breathe on them. They were clean and soft, underscoring her feeling about his indoor life. The nails were neat but not manicured; she usually saw that among middle-aged men who were wealthy or young urban groomers who were more fit. The hair was sparse up top, befitting the age Lauren had fixed, as were the strands of white mixed in with its dull, iron filings color. The brows were wildly bushy, sometimes an indicator of a bachelor or widower, and his salt-and-pepper goatee gave him an air of academia or arts and letters. Nikki looked again at his fingertips and made note of a bluish tinge that looked to be within the skin itself and not topical like from oil paint or ink stains.
Bruises, welts, and abrasions were everywhere, front, back, and sides. Torso, legs, and arms. In keeping with her open-mind approach, the detective tried not to ascribe the marks to a night of sadomasochism. Possible, even likely, given the setting, but not for certain. There were no obvious cuts, punctures, bullet holes, or bleeding she could see.
The rest of the room was immaculate, at least for a torture dungeon. The CSU vacuuming and print dusting might yield some forensic evidence, but there was no visible trash, cigarette butts, or any clues such as a conveniently dropped hotel matchbook with a killer's room number on it, like you saw in old movies on TCM.
Again, keeping an open mind, Nikki refused to conclude there even was a killer in the classic sense. A homicide? Possibly. Murder? Still just possibly. The door had to be left open for an accidental death from a consensual torture session gone too far, resulting in a panic flight from the dom in the relationship.
Heat was sketching her own diagram of the room layout, something she always did as a personal companion to the one filed by the Crime Scene Unit, when Detective Ochoa came in after his interview of the cleaning crew. He had a sober tone as he quickly greeted Nikki, but softened when his gaze fell on the ME.
"Detective," said Lauren with a little too much formality.
"Doctor," he replied, matching her reserve. Then Nikki caught Lauren taking something out of the side pocket of her suit and slipping it into his hand. Detective Ochoa didn't look at it, just said, "Right, thanks," and stepped across the room, where he turned his back and fastened his watch to his wrist. Nikki could do the math on where The Oach was when he was awakened by the dead body call.
Excerpted from HEAT RISES by RICHARD CASTLE Copyright © 2012 by ABC Studios. Excerpted by permission of HYPERION. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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