Judgment in Death (In Death Series #11)by J. D. Robb, Nora Roberts, Nora D. Roberts
In an uptown strip joint, a cop is found bludgeoned to death. The weapon's a baseball bat. The motive's a mystery. It's a case of serious overkill that pushes Eve Dallas straight into overdrive. Her investigation uncovers a private club that's more than a hot spot. Purgatory's a last chance for atonement where everyone is judged. Where your ultimate fate depends on… See more details below
In an uptown strip joint, a cop is found bludgeoned to death. The weapon's a baseball bat. The motive's a mystery. It's a case of serious overkill that pushes Eve Dallas straight into overdrive. Her investigation uncovers a private club that's more than a hot spot. Purgatory's a last chance for atonement where everyone is judged. Where your ultimate fate depends on your most intimate sins. And where one cop's hidden secrets are about to plunge innocent souls into vice-ridden damnation...
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The vices of authority are chiefly four: delays, corruption, roughness and facility.
More things belong to marriage than four bare legs in a bed.
She stood in Purgatory and studied death. The blood and the gore of it, the ferocity of its glee. It had come to this place with the willful temper of a child, full of heat and passion and careless brutality.
Murder was rarely a tidy business. Whether it was craftily calculated or wildly impulsive, it tended to leave a mess for others to clean up.
It was her job to wade through the debris of murder, to pick up the pieces, see where they fit, and put together a picture of the life that had been stolen. And through that picture to find the image of a killer.
Now, in the early hours of morning, in the hesitant spring of 2059, her boots crunched over a jagged sea of broken glass. Her eyes, brown and cool, scanned the scene: shattered mirrors, broken bottles, splintered wood. Wall screens were smashed, privacy booths scarred and dented. Pricey leather and cloth that had covered stools or the plusher seating areas had been ripped to colorful shreds.
What had once been an upscale strip club was now a jumbled pile of expensive garbage.
What had once been a man lay behind the wide curve of the bar. Now a victim, sprawled in his own blood.
Lieutenant Eve Dallas crouched beside him. She was a cop, and that made him hers.
“Male. Black. Late thirties. Massive trauma, head and body. Multiple broken bones.” She took a gauge from her field kit to take the body and ambient temperatures. “Looks like the fractured skull would have done the job, but it didn’t stop there.”
“He was beaten to pieces.”
Eve acknowledged her aide’s comment with a grunt. She was looking at what was left of a well-built man in his prime, a good six-two and two hundred and thirty pounds of what had been toned muscle.
“What do you see, Peabody?”
Automatically, Peabody shifted her stance, focused her vision. “The victim. . . well, it appears the victim was struck from behind. The first blow probably took him down, or at least dazed him. The killer followed through, with repeated strikes. From the pattern of the blood splatter, and brain matter, he was taken out with head shots, then beaten while down, likely unconscious. Some of the injuries were certainly delivered postmortem. The metal bat is the probable murder weapon and was used by someone of considerable strength, possibly chemically induced, as the scene indicates excessive violence often demonstrated by users of Zeus.”
“Time of death, oh four hundred,” Eve stated, then turned her head to look up at Peabody.
Her aide was starched and pressed and as official as they came, with her uniform cap set precisely on her dark chin-length hair. She had good eyes, Eve thought, clear and dark. And though the sheer vileness of the scene had leached some of the color from her cheeks, she was holding.
“Motive?” Eve asked.
“It appears to be robbery, Lieutenant.”
“The cash drawer’s open and empty. The credit machine’s broken.”
“Mmm-hmm. Snazzy place like this would be heavier in credits, but they’d do some cash business.”
“Zeus addicts kill for spare change.”
“True enough. But what would our victim have been doing alone, in a closed club, with an addict? Why would he let anyone hopped on Zeus behind the bar? And . . .” With her sealed fingers she picked up a small silver credit chip from the river of blood. “Why would our addict leave these behind? A number of them are scattered here around the body.”
“He could have dropped them.” But Peabody began to think she wasn’t seeing something Eve did.
She counted the coins as she picked them up, thirty in all, sealed them in an evidence bag, and handed it to Peabody. Then she picked up the bat. It was fouled with blood and brain. About two feet in length, she judged, and weighted to mean business.
“It’s good, solid metal, not something an addict would pick up in some abandoned building. We’re going to find this belonged here, behind the bar. We’re going to find, Peabody, that our victim knew his killer. Maybe they were having an after-hours drink.”
Her eyes narrowed as she pictured it. “Maybe they had words, and the words escalated. More likely, our killer already had an edge on. He knew where the bat was. Came behind the bar. Something he’d done before, so our friend here doesn’t think anything of it. He’s not concerned, doesn’t worry about turning his back.”
She did so herself, measuring the position of the body, of the splatter. “The first blow rams him face first into the glass on the back wall. Look at the cuts on his face. Those aren’t nicks from flying glass. They’re too long, too deep. He manages to turn, and that’s where the killer takes the next swing here, across the jaw. That spins him around again. He grabs the shelves there, brings them down. Bottles crashing. That’s when he took the killing blow. This one that cracked his skull like an egg.”
She crouched again, sat back on her heels. “After that, the killer just beat the hell out of him, then wrecked the place. Maybe in temper, maybe as cover. But he had enough control to come back here, to look at his handiwork before he left. He dropped the bat here when he was done.”
“He wanted it to look like a robbery? Like an illegals overkill?”
“Yeah. Or our victim was a moron and I’m giving him too much credit. You got the body and immediate scene recorded? All angles?”
“Let’s turn him over.”
The shattered bones shifted like a sack of broken crockery as Eve turned the body. “Goddamn it. Oh, goddamn it.”
She reached down to lift the smeared ID from the cool, congealing pool of blood. With her sealed thumb, she wiped at the photo and the shield. “He was on the job.”
“He was a cop?” Peabody stepped forward. She heard the sudden silence. The crime scene team and the sweepers working on the other side of the bar stopped talking. Stopped moving.
A half dozen faces turned. Waited.
“Kohli, Detective Taj.” Eve’s face was grim as she got to her feet. “He was one of us.”
Peabody crossed the littered floor to where Eve stood watching the remains of Detective Taj Kohli being bagged for transferal to the morgue. “I got his basics, Dallas. He’s out of the One twenty-eight, assigned to Illegals. Been on the job for eight years. Came out of the military. He was thirty-seven. Married. Two kids.”
“Anything pop on his record?”
“No, sir. It’s clean.”
“Let’s find out if he was working undercover here or just moonlighting. Elliott? I want those security discs.”
“There aren’t any.” One of the crime scene team hurried over. His face was folded into angry lines. “Cleaned out. Every one of them. The place had full scope, and this son of a bitch snagged every one. We got nothing.”
“Covered his tracks.” With her hands on her hips, Eve turned a circle. The club was triple-leveled, with a stage on the main, dance floors on one and two. Privacy rooms ringed the top. For full scope, she estimated it would need a dozen cameras, probably more. To snag all the record discs would have taken time and care.
“He knew the place,” she decided. “Or he’s a fucking security whiz. Window dressing,” she muttered. “All this destruction’s just window dressing. He knew what he was doing. He had control. Peabody, find out who owns the place, who runs it. I want to know everybody who works here. I want to know the setup.”
“Lieutenant?” A harassed-looking sweeper trudged through the chaos. “There’s a civilian outside.”
“There are a lot of civilians outside. Let’s keep them there.”
“Yes, sir, but this one insists on speaking to you. He says this is his place. And, ah . . .”
“ ‘And, ah’ what?”
“And that you’re his wife.”
“Roarke Entertainment,” Peabody announced as she read off the data from her palm PC. She sent Eve a cautious smile. “Guess who owns Purgatory?”
“I should’ve figured it.” Resigned, Eve strode to the entrance door.
He looked very much as he’d looked two hours before when they’d parted ways to go about their individual business. Sleek and gorgeous. The light topcoat he wore over his dark suit fluttered a bit in the breeze. The same breeze that tugged at the mane of black hair that framed his poetically sinful face. The dark glasses he wore against the glare of the sun only added to the look of slick elegance.
And when he slipped them off as she stepped out, the brilliant blue of his eyes met hers. He tucked the glasses in his pocket, lifted an eyebrow.
“Good morning, Lieutenant.”
“I had a bad feeling when I walked in here. It’s just your kind of place, isn’t it? Why do you have to own every damn thing?”
“It was a boyhood dream.” His voice cruised over Ireland, picked up the music of it. He glanced past her to the police seal. “It appears we’ve both been inconvenienced.”
“Did you have to tell the sweeper I was your wife?”
“You are my wife,” he said easily and shifted his gaze back to her face. “A fact which pleases me daily.” He took her hand, rubbing his thumb over her wedding ring before she could tug it free again.
“No touching,” she hissed at him, which made him smile.
“That’s not what you said a few hours ago. In fact—”
“Shut up, Roarke.” She glanced around, though none of the cops working the scene was outside or close enough to hear. “This is a police investigation.”
“So I’m told.”
“And who told you?”
“The head of the maintenance team who found the body. He did call the police first,” he pointed out. “But it’s natural he’d report the incident to me. What happened?”
There was no point in griping because his business had tangled around hers. Again. She tried to console herself that he could and would help her cut through some of the muck of paperwork.
“Do you have a bartender by the name of Kohli? Taj Kohli?”
“I have no idea. But I can find out.” He took a slim memo book out of his breast pocket, keyed in a request for data. “Is he dead?”
“As dead gets.”
“Yes, he was mine,” Roarke confirmed, and the Irish in his voice had taken on a cold note. “For the past three months. Part time. Four nights a week. He had a family.”
“Yes, I know.” Such things mattered to him, and it always touched her heart. “He was a cop,” Eve said. This time his brows lifted. “Didn’t have that data in your little scan, did you?”
“No. It seems my personnel director was careless. That will be fixed. Am I allowed inside?”
“Yeah, in a minute. How long have you owned the place?”
“Four years, more or less.”
“How many employees, full- and part-time?”
“I’ll get you all the data, Lieutenant, and answer all pertinent questions.” Annoyance gleamed in his eyes as he reached for the door himself. “But now, I’d like to see my place.”
He pushed inside, scanned the destruction, then focused in on the thick black bag being loaded on what the death attendants called a stroller.
“How was he killed?”
“Thoroughly,” Eve said, then sighed when Roarke simply turned and stared at her. “It was ugly, okay? Metal bat.” She watched Roarke look toward the bar and the spray of blood sparkling on glass like an incomprehensible painting. “After the first few hits, he wouldn’t have felt anything.”
“Ever had a bat laid into you? I have,” he said before she could answer. “It’s not pleasant. It seems far-fetched to think it’s robbery, even one that got well out of hand.”
“There’d have been enough prime liquor, easily fenced, to keep anyone cozily fixed for some time. Why break the bottles when you could sell them? If you hit a place like this, it’s not for the bit of cash that might be copped, but for the inventory and perhaps some of the equipment.”
“Is that the voice of experience?”
She teased a grin out of him. “Naturally. My experience, that is, as a property owner and a law-abiding citizen.”
“Gone. He got all of them.”
“Then it follows he’d cased the place carefully beforehand.”
“How many cameras?”
Once again, Roarke took out his pad, checked data. “Eighteen. Nine on this floor, six on two, and the other two on the top level for full scope. Before you ask, closing is at three, which would have staff out by half past. The last show, and we’ve live ones here, ends at two. The musicians and the entertainers—”
“As you like,” he said mildly. “They clock off at that time. I’ll have names and schedules for you within the hour.”
“Appreciate it. Why Purgatory?”
“The name?” The ghost of a smile flirted with his mouth. “I liked it. The priests will tell you Purgatory’s a place for atonement, rehabilitation perhaps. A bit like prison. I’ve always seen it as a last chance to be human,” he decided. “Before you strap on your wings and halo or face the fire.”
“Which would you rather?” she wondered. “The wings or the fire?”
“That’s the point, you see. I prefer being human.” As the stroller wheeled by, he ran a hand over her short brown hair. “I’m sorry for this.”
“So am I. Any reason a New York City detective would have been working undercover in Purgatory?”
“I couldn’t say. It’s certainly likely that some of the clientele might dabble in areas not strictly approved by the NYPSD, but I’ve not been informed of anything overt. Some illegals might change hands in privacy rooms or under tables, but there’s been no large transactions here. I would have known. The strippers don’t turn tricks unless they’re licensed, which some are. No one under age is allowed through the doors—as client or staff. I have my own standards, Lieutenant, such as they are.”
“I’m not coming down on you. I need a picture.”
“You’re pissed that I’m here at all.”
She waited a minute, her short, choppy hair disordered from its dance outside in the early breeze. As the morgue techs opened the door to transfer Kohli, the sounds of the day punched into the club.
Traffic was already thickening. Cars crammed irritably on the street, air commuters swarmed the skies. She heard the call of an early-bird glide-cart operator call to the techs and ask: “What da fuck?”
“Okay, I’m pissed that you’re here at all. I’ll get over it. When’s the last time you were in here?”
“Months. It ran well and didn’t need my direct attention.”
“Who manages it for you?”
“Rue MacLean. I’ll get her information to you as well.”
“Sooner than later. Do you want to go through the place now?”
“No point in it until I’ve refreshed myself on how it was. I’ll want to be let back in once I’ve done that.”
“I’ll take care of it. Yes, Peabody?” she said, turning as her aide inched forward and cleared her throat.
“Sorry, sir, but I thought you’d want to know I reached the victim’s squad captain. They’re sending a member of his unit and a counselor to inform next of kin. They need to know if they should wait for you or see the wife alone.”
“Tell them to wait. We’ll head over now and meet them. I have to go,” she said to Roarke.
“I don’t envy you your job, Lieutenant.” Because he needed it, he took her hand, linked their fingers firmly. “But I’ll let you get back to it. I’ll have the information you wanted to you as soon as I can.”
“Roarke?” she called as he started for the door. “I’m sorry about your place.”
“Wood and glass. There’s plenty more,” he replied as he looked at her over his shoulder.
“He doesn’t mean it,” Eve murmured when he’d shut the door behind him.
“They messed with him. He won’t let it go.” Eve heaved out a breath. “Come on, Peabody, let’s go see the wife and get this particular hell over with.”
The Kohlis lived in a decent, midlevel building on the East Side. The kind of place, Eve mused, where you found young families and older retired couples. Not hip enough for the single crowd, not cheap enough for the struggling.
It was a simple multiunit, pleasantly if not elegantly rehabbed post–Urban Wars.
Door security was a basic code entry.
Eve spotted the cops before she’d double-parked and flipped her On Duty light to active.
The woman was well turned out, with gilt-edged hair that curved up to her cheeks in two stiletto points. She wore sun shades and an inexpensive business suit in navy. The shoes with their thin, two-inch heels told Eve she worked a desk.
Brass. Eve was sure of it.
The man had good shoulders and a bit of pudge at the middle. He’d let his hair go gray, and there was a lot of it. Currently, it was dancing in the breeze around his quiet, composed face. He wore cop shoes—hard-soled and buffed to a gleam. His suit jacket was a little small in the body and starting to fray at the cuffs.
A long-timer, Eve judged, who’d moved from beat to street to desk.
“Lieutenant Dallas.” The woman stepped forward but didn’t offer her hand for a polite shake. “I recognized you. You get a lot of play in the media.” It wasn’t said with rebuke, but there was a hint of it in the air, nonetheless. “I’m Captain Roth, from the One twenty-eight. This is Sergeant Clooney out of my house. He’s here as grief counselor.”
“Thanks for waiting. Officer Peabody, my aide.”
“What is the status of your investigation, Lieutenant?”
“Detective Kohli’s body is with the ME and will have priority. My report will be written and filed subsequent to notification of next of kin.”
She paused to avoid shouting over the sudden blast of a maxibus that pulled to the curb half a block down.
“At this point, Captain Roth, I have a dead police officer who was the apparent victim of a particularly brutal beating in the early hours of this morning while he was in a club, after hours. A club where he was employed as a part-time bartender.”
“Then what is the motive, in your opinion?”
A little seed of resentment planted itself in Eve’s gut. It would, she knew, fester there if she wasn’t careful. “I’ve formed no opinion as to motive at this stage of my investigation. Captain Roth, do you want to stand on the street and question me, or would you prefer to read my report when it’s filed?”
Roth opened her mouth, then sucked in a breath. “Point taken, Lieutenant. Detective Kohli worked under me for five years. I’ll be straight with you. I want this investigation handled out of my house.”
“I appreciate your feelings in this matter, Captain Roth. I can only assure you that as long as I’m primary, the investigation into the death of Detective Kohli will receive my complete focus.”
Take off the damn shades, Eve thought. I want to see your eyes. “You can request the transfer of authority,” Eve continued. “But I’ll be straight with you. I won’t give it up easy. I stood over him this morning. I saw what was done to him. You couldn’t want his killer any more than I do.”
“Captain.” Clooney stepped forward, laying a hand lightly on Roth’s arm at the elbow. There were lines fanning out from his pale blue eyes. They made him look tired and somehow trustworthy. “Lieutenant. Emotions are running pretty high right now. For all of us. But we’ve got a job to do here and now.”
He glanced up, homing in on a window four stories above. “Whatever we’re feeling doesn’t come close to what’s going to be felt upstairs.”
“You’re right. You’re right, Art. Let’s get this done.”
Roth turned to the entrance, bypassed the code with her master.
“Lieutenant?” Clooney hung back. “I know you’ll want to question Patsy, Taj’s wife. I have to ask if you could go a little easy just now. I know what she’s about to go through. I lost a son in the line of duty a few months back. It rips a hole in you.”
“I’m not going to kick her while she’s down, Clooney.” Eve shoved through the doors, caught herself, turned back. “I didn’t know him,” she said more calmly, “but he was murdered, and he was a cop. That’s enough for me. Okay?”
“Yeah. Yeah, okay.”
“Christ, I hate this.” She followed Roth to the elevator. “How do you do it?” she asked Clooney. “The counseling thing. How do you stand it?”
“To tell you the truth, they tapped me for it because I have a way with keeping the peace. Mediation,” he added with a quick smile. “I agreed to survivor counseling, to give it a try, and found I could do some good. You know what they feel—every stage of it.”
He pressed his lips together as they stepped onto the elevator. The smile was long gone. “You stand it because maybe you can help . . . just a little. It makes a difference if the counselor’s a cop. And I’ve discovered in the last few months it makes a bigger one if the counselor’s a cop who experienced a loss. You ever lose a family member, Lieutenant?”
Eve flashed on a dingy room, the bloody husk of a man, and the child she’d been, huddled broken in a corner. “I don’t have any family.”
“Well . . .” was all Clooney said as they stepped off on the fourth floor.
She would know, and they were all aware of it. A cop’s spouse would know the minute she opened the door. How the words were spoken varied little, and it didn’t matter a damn. The minute the door opened, lives were irrevocably changed.
They didn’t have the chance to knock before it began.
Patsy Kohli was a pretty woman with smooth, ebony skin and a closely cropped thatch of black curls. She was dressed to go out, a baby sling strapped across her breasts. The small boy at her side had his hand clasped in hers as he danced frantically in place.
“Let’s go swing! Let’s go swing!”
But his mother had frozen in place, the laughter that had been in her eyes dying away. She lifted one hand, pressing it to the baby, and the baby to her heart.
Roth had taken off her sunshades. Her eyes were coldly blue, rigidly blank. “Patsy. We need to come in.”
“Taj.” Patsy stood where she was, slowly shaking her head. “Taj.”
“Here now, Patsy.” Clooney moved in, sliding an arm around her shoulders. “Why don’t we sit down?”
“No. No. No.”
The little boy began to cry, wailing yelps as he tugged on his mother’s unresponsive hand. Both Roth and Eve looked down at him with stares of sheer, hot panic.
Peabody eased inside, crouched down to his level.
“Going swing,” he said pitifully, while great tears spilled down his chubby cheeks.
“Yeah. Lieutenant, why don’t I take the boy out?”
“Good idea. Good thinking.” Her stomach was busily tying itself into knots at the rising sobs. “Mrs. Kohli, with your permission, my officer will take your son outside for awhile. I think that would be best.”
“Chad.” Patsy stared down as if coming out of a dream. “We’re going to the park. Two blocks over. The swings.”
“I’ll take him, Mrs. Kohli. We’ll be fine.” With an ease that had Eve frowning, Peabody lifted the boy, set him on her hip. “Hey, Chad, you like soy dogs?”
“Patsy, why don’t you give me your little girl there.” Gently, Clooney unhooked the sling, slipped the baby free. Then, to Eve’s shock, he passed the bundle to her.
“Oh listen, I can’t—”
But Clooney was already guiding Pasty to the sofa, and Eve was left holding the bag. Or so she thought of it. Wincing, she looked down, and when big, black eyes stared curiously up at her, her palms went damp.
And when the baby said, “Coo,” she lost all the spit in her mouth.
She searched the room for help. Clooney and Roth were already flanking Pasty, and Clooney’s voice was a quiet murmur. The room was small and lived-in, with a scatter of toys on the rug and a scent—one she didn’t recognize—that was talc and crayons and sugar. The scent of children.
But she spotted a basket of neatly folded laundry on the floor by a chair. Perfect, she decided and, with the care of a woman handling a homemade boomer, laid the baby on top.
“Stay,” she whispered, awkwardly patting the dark, downy head.
And started to breathe again.
She tuned back into the room, saw the woman on the sofa gathered into herself, rocking, rocking, with her hands gripped in Clooney’s. She made no sound, and her tears fell like rain.
Eve stayed out of the way, watched Clooney work, watched the unity of support stand on either side of the widow. This, she thought, was family. For what it was worth. And in times like this, it was all there could be.
Grief settled into the room like fog. It would, she knew, be a long time before it burned away again.
“It’s my fault. It’s my fault.” They were the first words Patsy spoke since she’d sat on the sofa.
“No.” Clooney squeezed her hands until she lifted her head. They needed to look in your eyes, he knew. To believe you, to take comfort, they needed to see it all in your eyes. “Of course it’s not.”
“He’d never have been working there if not for me. I didn’t want to go back to work after Jilly was born. I wanted to stay home. The money, the professional mother’s salary was so much less than—”
“Patsy, Taj was happy you were content to stay home with the children. He was so proud of them and of you.”
“I can’t—Chad.” She pulled her hands free, pressed them to her face. “How can I tell him? How can we live without Taj? Where is he?” She dropped her hands, looked around blindly. “I have to go see him. Maybe there’s a mistake.”
It was, Eve knew, her time. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Kohli, there’s no mistake. I’m Lieutenant Dallas. I’m in charge of the investigation.”
“You saw Taj.” Patsy got shakily to her feet.
“Yes. I’m sorry, very sorry for your loss. Can you talk to me, Mrs. Kohli? Help me find the person who did this?”
“Lieutenant Dallas,” Roth began, but Patsy shook her head.
“No, no. I want to talk. Taj would want me to. He’d want . . . Where’s Jilly? Where’s my baby?”
“I, ah . . .” Feeling sticky again, Eve gestured to the hamper.
“Oh.” Patsy wiped tears from her face, smiled. “She’s so good. Such a love. She hardly ever cries. I should put her in her crib.”
“I’ll do that for you, Patsy.” Clooney rose. “You talk to the lieutenant.” He gave Eve a quiet look, full of sorrow and understanding. “That’s what Taj would want. Do you want us to call someone for you? Your sister?”
“Yes.” Patsy drew in a breath. “Yes, please. If you’d call Carla for me.”
“Captain Roth will do that for you, won’t you, Captain? While I put the baby down.”
Roth struggled, set her teeth. It didn’t surprise Eve to see the annoyance. Clooney had essentially taken over, gently. And this wasn’t a woman who liked taking orders from her sergeant.
“Yes, of course.” With a final warning look at Eve, she walked into the next room.
“Are you with Taj’s squad?”
“No, I’m not.”
“No, no, of course.” Patsy rubbed her temple. “You’d be with Homicide.” She started to break, the sound coming through her lips like a whimper. And Eve watched with admiration as she toughened up. “What do you want to know?”
“Your husband didn’t come home this morning. You weren’t concerned?”
“No.” She reached back, braced a hand on the arm of the couch, and lowered herself down. “He’d told me he’d probably go into the station from the club. He sometimes did that. And he said he was meeting someone after closing.”
“He didn’t say, just that he had someone to see after closing.”
“Do you know of anyone who wished him harm, Mrs. Kohli?”
“He was a cop,” she said simply. “Do you know anyone who wishes you harm, Lieutenant?”
Fair enough, Eve thought and nodded. “Anyone specific? Someone he mentioned to you.”
“No. Taj didn’t bring work home. It was a point of honor for him, I think. He didn’t want anything to touch his family. I don’t even know what cases he was working on. He didn’t like to talk about it. But he was worried.”
She folded her hands tightly in her lap, stared down at them. Stared, Eve noted, at the gold band on her finger. “I could tell he was worried about something. I asked him about it, but he brushed it off. That was Taj,” she managed with a trembling smile. “He had, well some people would say it was a male dominant thing, but it was just Taj. He was old-fashioned about some things. He was a good man. A wonderful father. He loved his job.”
She pressed her lips together. “He would have been proud to die in the line of duty. But not like this. Not like this. Whoever did this to him took that away from him. Took him away from me and from his babies. How can that be? Lieutenant, how can that be?”
And as there was no answer to it; all Eve could do was ask more questions.
“That was a rough one.”
“Yeah.” Eve pulled away from the curb and tried to shake the weight she’d carried out of the Kohli apartment with her. “She’ll hold it together for the kids. She’s got spine.”
“Great kids. The little boy’s a real piece of work. Conned me into a soy dog, three chocolate sticks, and a fudgy cone.”
“Bet he really had to twist your arm.”
Peabody’s smile was sweet. “I’ve got a nephew about his age.”
“You have nephews every possible age.”
“More or less.”
“Tell me something, through your vast experience with family. You got a husband and wife, seem pretty tight, good, solid marriage, kids. Why would the wife, who appears to have a backbone and a brain, know next to nothing about her husband’s job? His business, his day-to-day routine?”
“Maybe he likes to check work at the door.”
“Doesn’t play for me,” Eve muttered. “You live with someone day after day, you have to know what they do, what they think, what they’re into. She said he was worried about something but doesn’t know what. Didn’t press it.”
She shook her head, frowning as she wove through crosstown traffic. “I don’t get that.”
“You and Roarke have a different couple dynamic.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Well.” Peabody slid her eyes over to Eve’s profile. “That was a nice way of saying neither one of you would let the other get away with holding back. Something’s going on with one of you, the other sniffs it out and hammers away until it’s all out there. You’re both nosy, and just mean enough not to let the other one slide by. Now, you take my aunt Miriam.”
“Do I have to?”
“What I’m saying is, she and Uncle Jim have been married for over forty years. He goes to work every day, comes home every night. They have four kids, eight, no, nine grand-kids, and a very happy life. She doesn’t even know how much he makes a year. He just gives her an allowance—”
Eve nearly back-ended a Rapid Cab. “A what?”
“Yeah, well, I said you have a different dynamic. Anyway, he gives her the house money and stuff. She’ll ask how his day was, he’ll say it was fine, and that’s the end of the topic of work.” She shrugged. “That’s how it goes for them. Now, my cousin Freida—”
“I get the point, Peabody.” Eve engaged the car-link and called the ME.
She was transferred directly to Morse, in autopsy.
“I’m still working on him, Dallas.” Morse’s face was uncharacteristically sober. “He’s a goddamn mess.”
“I know it. You got the tox reports yet?”
“I tagged them first. No illegals in his system. He’d had a couple ounces of beer, some pretzels just prior to death. It appears he was having the beer when he was hit. Last meal, some six hours before, was a chicken sandwich on whole wheat, pasta salad. Coffee. At this point, I can tell you the victim was in excellent health and good physical condition before some son of a bitch pounded him to pieces.”
“Okay. The skull fracture the killing blow?”
“Didn’t I say I was still working on him?” Morse’s voice sliced out, laser sharp. Before Eve could respond, he held up a hand, protectively sealed and bloody to the wrist. “Sorry. Sorry. I can piece this much together. The assailant came at him from behind. First blow to the back of the head. Facial lacerations indicate the victim hit glass, face first. The second blow, jaw strike, took him down. Then the bastard opened his head like a goddamn peanut. He’d have been dead before he felt it. The other injuries are postmortem. I don’t have a final count of those injuries.”
“You gave me what I needed. Sorry for the push.”
“No, it’s on me.” Morse puffed out his cheeks. “I knew him, so it’s a little too personal. He was a decent guy, liked to show off holo-shots of his kids. We don’t get many happy faces around here.” His eyes narrowed on hers. “I’m glad he’s yours, Dallas. It helps knowing he’s yours. You’ll have my report by end of shift.”
He broke transmission and left her staring at a blank screen.
“Popular guy,” Eve commented. “Who had it so in for a decent guy, proud daddy, loving husband? Who’s going to beat a cop to a bloody pulp, knowing the system bands together to collar a cop killer? Somebody hated our popular guy in a big, nasty way.”
“Somebody he’d busted?”
You couldn’t worry about the ones you busted, Eve mused. But you always kept them in mind. “A cop has a drink with and turns his back on someone he’s busted, he’s asking to have his head bashed in. Let’s pump up the speed on getting all his records, Peabody. I want to see what kind of cop Taj Kohli was.”
Eve stepped into the squad room, had just turned toward her office, when a woman stood up from a bench in the waiting area.
“I’m Rue MacLean. I’ve just heard about Taj. I . . .” She lifted her hands. “Roarke indicated you’d want to speak to me, so I thought I’d come in right away. I want to help.”
“I appreciate that. Just one moment. Peabody.” She stepped aside with her aide. “Give the record drones a boost on Kohli, then run his financials.”
“Sir? His financials?”
“That’s right. You run into any blocks on that, call Feeney in EDD. Do some digging. Find out who he was tight with in his squad. He didn’t talk to his wife about work, maybe he talked to someone else. I want to know if he had any hobbies, side interests. And I want to know what case files he was working on or was looking into. I want his life in front of me by end of shift.”
“Ms. MacLean? I’d like to take you into an interview room. My office is a little cramped.”
“Whatever you like. I can’t believe this happened. I just can’t understand how it could happen.”
“We’ll talk about it.” On the record, Eve thought, as she led Rue through the warren of Central to the interview area. “I’d like to record this,” she said and gestured Rue into the boxlike room with a single table and two chairs.
“Of course. I only want to help.”
“Have a seat.” Eve activated the recorder. “Dallas, Lieutenant Eve, in interview with MacLean, Rue. Subject has volunteered to cooperate, on record, in the matter of Kohli, Taj. Homicide. I appreciate you coming in, Ms. MacLean.”
“I don’t know what I can tell you that might help.”
“You manage the club where Taj Kohli worked as part-time bartender?”
She was just the type Roarke would choose, Eve thought. Slick, sleek, lovely. Deep purple eyes, full of concern now, that shone like jewels against creamy skin.
Delicate features, close to elegant, with just a hint of steel in the line of the chin. Curvy, petite, and perfectly groomed in a plum-colored skirt suit that skimmed her body and showed off great legs.
Her hair was the color of sunlight and was drawn severely back in a fashion that required perfect confidence and good bones.
“Purgatory. Yes, I’ve managed the club for four years now.”
“And before that?”
“I was hostess at a small club downtown. Prior to that, I was a dancer. A performer,” she added with a thin smile. “I decided I wanted to move off the stage and into management where I could keep my clothes on. Roarke gave me the opportunity to do so, first at Trends as hostess, then as manager of Purgatory. Your husband appreciates ambition, Lieutenant.”
That was an avenue best not traveled on record. “Are part of your duties as manager of Purgatory the hiring of employees?”
“Yes. I hired Taj. He was looking for part-time work. His wife had just had a baby and was opting for professional mother status. He needed some extra money, was willing to work the late shift, and being happily married, wasn’t likely to hit on the talent.”
“Are those the only requirements for employment at Purgatory?”
“No, but they matter.” Rue lifted her fingers. She wore a single ring, a trio of stones twisted together like snakes and studded with stones the same color as her eyes. “He knew how to mix drinks, how to serve. He had a good eye for troublemakers. I didn’t know he was a cop. His application stated he worked in security, and it checked out.”
“Lenux. I contacted the office, spoke with his supervisor—well, or so I assumed—and was given his employment record. I had no reason to question it, and his record was solid. I hired him on a two-week probationary, he did the job, and we went from there.”
“Do you have the contact at Lenux in your files?”
“Yes.” Rue blew out a breath. “I’ve already tried to call. All I got this time around was that the code had been discontinued.”
“I’d like it anyway. Just to follow up.”
“Of course.” Rue reached into her bag, took out a day book. “I don’t know why he didn’t tell me he was a cop,” she said as she keyed in the code number on an e-memo for Eve. “Maybe he thought I wouldn’t hire him. But when you figure the owner’s a cop—”
“I don’t own the club.”
“No, well.” She shrugged and handed Eve the memo.
“He was in the club after closing. Is that standard?”
“No, but it isn’t unheard of. Routinely, the head bartender on duty and one of the security team close up together. Taj was serving as head last night, and according to my records, it was Nester Vine’s turn to close with him. I haven’t been able to reach Nester as yet.”
“Are you in the club every night?”
“Five nights a week. Sundays and Mondays off. I was there last night until two-thirty. The place was clearing out, and one of the girls was having a bad night. Boyfriend trouble. I took her home, held her hand for awhile, then went home myself.”
“What time was that?”
“When I went home?” Rue blinked a moment. “About three-thirty, quarter to four, I guess.”
“The name of the woman you were with until that time?”
“Mitzi.” Rue drew in a breath. “Mitzi Treacher. Lieutenant, the last time I saw Taj, he was alive and working the bar.”
“I’m just putting the facts on record, Ms. MacLean. Do you have a take on Detective Kohli’s state of mind the last time you saw him?”
“He seemed fine. We didn’t talk much last night. I stopped by the bar for some mineral water a couple of times. How’s it going, busy night, that kind of thing. God.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “He was a nice man. Quiet, steady. Always called his wife on his early break to see how she was doing.”
“He use the bar phone?”
“No. We discourage personal calls, barring emergencies, on the business line. He used his palm-link.”
“Did he use it last night?”
“I don’t know. He always did. I can’t say I noticed. No, wait.” This time she closed her eyes and seemed to drift. “He was eating a sandwich, back in the break room. I remember walking by. The door was open. He was making cooing noises. Talking to the baby,” she said, opening her eyes again. “I remember that because it was so sweet and silly, hearing this big bruiser of a guy make baby noises into the ’link. Is it important?”
“Just trying to get a picture.” There hadn’t been a palm-link on or near the body, Eve recalled. “Did you notice anyone who came in last night or any other night when he was on? Somebody he knew, hung out at the bar with him?”
“No. We’ve got some regulars, of course. People who come in several times a week. Taj got so he’d know their usual drinks. Clients appreciate that.”
“Did he get tight with anyone who worked there?”
“Not particularly. Like I said, he was a quiet guy. Friendly enough, but he didn’t hang with anyone in particular. He did the bartender thing. Watched, listened.”
“Do you keep a metal bat behind the bar?”
“It’s legal,” Rue said quickly, then paled. “Is that what—”
“Did Taj ever have occasion to use it or threaten to?”
“He never used it.” She rubbed her upper chest with the flat of her hand in long, soothing strokes. “He had it out once or twice, I guess. Tapped it on the bar as a deterrent. That’s mostly all you need, especially with a guy his size. The club’s upscale. We rarely have any real trouble there. I run a clean place, Lieutenant. Roarke won’t tolerate less.”
The preliminary report was straightforward, and for Eve, unsatisfactory. She had the facts. A dead cop, bludgeoned to death with serious overkill and the wild destruction that pointed to an addict popping on Zeus or some lethal combination of illegals. A sloppy attempt to cover with the look of attempted robbery, a missing palm-link, and thirty loose credit chips.
The victim was apparently moonlighting to supplement his family income, had no blemishes or commendations on his service record, was well liked by his associates, and loved by his family. He had not, at least as far as she had uncovered, lived above his means, engaged in extramarital affairs, or been involved with a hot case that could have led to his death.
On the surface, it looked like just bad luck. But she was damned if that suit fit.
She brought his ID photo up on her screen, studied it. Big guy, with a proud look in his eyes. Firm jaw, wide shoulders.
“Somebody wanted you out, Kohli. Who’d you piss off?”
She shifted, sat up again. “Computer, run probability. Current case file, scheming cause of death and ME prelim, running primary’s report on victim. What is the probability that victim Kohli knew his assailant?”
Working . . . Probability, given known data and primary’s report is ninety-three point four percent that victim Kohli knew his assailant.
“Yeah, well, good for me.” She leaned forward, scooped her fingers through her hair. “Who do cops know? Other cops, weasels, bad guys, family. Neighbors. Who do bartenders know?” She let out a short laugh. “Every fucking body. Which hat were you wearing for your meet this morning, Detective?”
“Lieutenant?” Peabody poked her head in the door. “I’ve got Kohli’s current case load. There’s no record of him asking for files other than apply to his open logs. I ran into a trip with the financials. Everything’s jointly owned, so we need a warrant or spousal permission to poke around.”
“I’ll take care of it. Full service record?”
“Right here. Nothing special caught my eye. He was in on a big bust about six months ago. Some dealer named Ricker.”
“Yeah. Kohli was down in the feeding chain, mostly leg or drone work. He didn’t get the collar, that went to a Lieutenant Mills and Detective Martinez. They tied the warehouse of illegals to Ricker, got him indicted, but he slipped through. Still, they nailed six others in the cartel.”
“Ricker’s not the type to ruin his manicure by getting blood on the polish. But he wouldn’t think twice about paying for a hit, even on a cop.”
And the idea of it gave her a little ping of excitement. “Find out if Kohli testified. Seems to me it got to court before the whole business was dismissed on techs. See just what his part was in the bust. Get it from Captain Roth, and if she hassles you over it, pass her to me. I’ll be with the commander.”
Commander Whitney stood at his window while Eve reported on the status of her investigation. He had his big hands folded together behind his back and stared out at the sky traffic.
One of the new Cloud Dusters winged by close enough for him to see the color of its young pilot’s eyes and in direct violation of traffic codes.
Ballsy, Whitney thought absently, and stupid, he added as he heard the high, whining beep of the air patrol.
Busted, he thought. It should always be so easy to uphold the law.
When Eve fell silent behind him, Whitney turned. His face was dark and wide, his hair a close-cut military crop that was showing hints of gray. A big man with cool and sober eyes, he’d spent the first half of his career on the streets. Though he was spending the second half riding a desk, he hadn’t forgotten what it meant to strap on a weapon.
“Before I comment on your report, Lieutenant, I want to inform you that I’ve had communications from Captain Roth of the One twenty-eighth. She’s put in a formal request to have the Kohli homicide transferred to her squad.”
“Yes, sir. She indicated she would do so.”
“And your opinion of that request?”
“It’s understandable. And it’s emotional.”
“Agreed.” He waited a moment, inclined his head. “You don’t ask if I intend to grant Captain Roth’s request.”
“There’s no tactical reason to do so, and if you’d decided to put the investigation in Captain Roth’s hands, you’d have told me up front.”
Whitney pursed his lips, then turned back to the window. “Correct on both counts. The investigation remains on you. The case is emotional, Lieutenant. For Captain Roth’s squad and for every cop on the NYPSD. It’s difficult when one of us goes down, even though each of us knows the risks. But the nature of this killing takes it to another level. The excessive violence doesn’t smack of a professional hit.”
“No. But I’m not discounting that angle. If Ricker’s involved, whoever he hired may have been using or may have had instructions to make it messy. I don’t know what kind of cop Kohli was yet, Commander. Whether he was foolish enough or cocky enough to put himself in a vulnerable position with one of Ricker’s hammers. I have Peabody digging into his record and case load. I need to know who he was close to, the names of his weasels, and how involved he was in the Ricker investigation and trial.”
“It’s not the first time Ricker’s suspected of arranging a cop killing. But he’s generally more subtle.”
“There was something personal in this, Commander. Whether for the badge or for Kohli, I don’t know. But it was very personal. Roarke owned the club,” she added.
“Yes, so I’ve heard.” He turned back, skimmed his gaze over her face, and walked to his desk. “Personal all around, Lieutenant?”
“It will be easier and quicker to obtain data on the club and on its staff and clientele. The manager’s already come in voluntarily for interview. The fact that Kohli concealed his attachment to the NYPSD makes me wonder if he was on the job—on his own. He deliberately misrepresented himself and went so far as to arrange a cover. There’s no indication he was working in soft clothes for the department, so it would have been unofficial.”
“I have no knowledge of any investigation, official or otherwise, that required Detective Kohli to go under in Purgatory. But I will pursue that matter with Captain Roth.” He held up a hand before Eve could object. “It’ll be smoother if that particular inquiry comes from this office rather than from you, Dallas. Let’s keep it smooth.”
“Yes, sir.” But it grated. “I want a warrant to open Kohli’s financials. They’re jointly held with his widow. At this time, I prefer not to request permission from Mrs. Kohli.”
“Or alert her before they’re open,” he finished. He spread his hands on the desk. “You think he was taking?”
“I’d like to eliminate that angle, sir.”
“Do it,” he ordered. “And do it quietly. I’ll get your warrant. You get me a cop killer.”
Eve spent the rest of the day poring over Kohli’s record, familiarizing herself with his case load, trying to get a handle on the man. The cop.
What she saw was an average officer who’d performed steadily, if slightly under his potential. He’d rarely missed a shift and just as rarely put in any overtime.
He’d never used his weapon for maximum force and therefore had never undergone extensive Testing. Still, he’d closed or been in on the closing of a good number of cases, and his reports on those closed and those open were efficient, carefully written, and thorough.
This was a man, Eve thought, who followed the book, did the job, then went home at night and put his day away.
How? she wondered. How the hell did anyone manage that?
His military record was similar. No trouble, no glow. He enlisted at the age of twenty-two, served six steady years, the last two in the military police.
Every t was crossed, every i dotted. It was, to her mind, a perfectly ordinary life. Almost too perfect.
The call to Nester Vine from Purgatory got her as far as his harassed-looking wife, who informed Eve that Vine had come home before the end of his shift the night before, dog-sick. She herself had just gotten in from the hospital where she’d taken her husband at three that morning for what turned out to be appendicitis.
As alibis went, it was a beaut. The only tip she pried out of Mrs. Vine was that she should get in touch with some stripper named Nancie, who’d apparently stuck around after Kohli had urged Vine to go home.
Still, she contacted the hospital and verified one Nester Vine had indeed had his appendix removed, in emergency, early that morning.
Scratch Nester, she thought, and put the stripper on her talk-to list.
Calls to Lieutenant Mills and Detective Martinez went unreturned. In the field and unavailable was the response. She left one last message for each, gathered the files, and prepared to go home.
She’d take a hard look at Kohli’s financials that evening.
She caught Peabody in her cubicle in the bullpen dealing with the follow-up paperwork.
“Leave the rest of that until tomorrow. Go home.”
“Yeah?” Peabody’s face lit up as she glanced at her wrist unit. “Almost on time, too. I’ve got an eight o’clock dinner with Charles. Now I’ll have just enough time to go snazz myself up.”
When Eve’s response was a grunt, Peabody grinned. “You know the problem with juggling two guys?”
“Do you consider McNab a guy?”
“On a good day, he’s a nice contrast to Charles. Anyway, you know the problem with seeing both of them?”
“No, Peabody, what’s the problem with seeing both of them?”
“There isn’t one.”
With a hoot of laughter, Peabody grabbed her bag and shot out of her cubicle. “See you tomorrow.”
Eve shook her head. One guy, she decided, was plenty problem enough for her taste. And if she got the hell out of Central, she might even beat him home for a change.
In a kind of test, she tried to click her mind off her case files. Traffic was ugly enough to keep her mind occupied, and the current blast of the billboards were hyping everything from spring fashions to the latest hot sports car.
When she caught a familiar face burst across one of the animated screens, she nearly sideswiped a glide-cart.
Mavis Freestone, her hair a riot of flame-colored spikes, whirled over the street at Thirty-fourth. She jiggled, spun, in a few sassy and amusingly placed scraps of electric blue. With each revolution, her hair changed from red to gold to blinding green.
It was, Eve thought with a foolish grin on her face, just like her.
“Jesus, Mavis. Would you just look at that? What a kick in the ass.”
A long way. Her oldest friend had come a long way from the street grifter Eve had once busted, to performance artist in third-rate clubs, and now to bona fide musical star.
Musical, Eve thought, in the broadest sense of the word.
She reached for her car-link, intending to call Mavis and tell her what she was looking at, when her personal palm-link beeped.
“Yeah.” She couldn’t take her eyes off the billboard, even when several impatient drivers honked rudely. “Dallas.”
“Webster.” Instantly, Eve’s shoulders tensed. She might have known Don Webster on a personal level, but no cop liked receiving a transmission from Internal Affairs. “Why are you calling on my personal ’link? IAB’s required to use official channels.”
“I was hoping to talk to you. Got a few minutes?”
“You are talking to me.”
“Come on, Dallas. Ten minutes.”
“I’m on my way home. Tag me tomorrow.”
“Ten minutes,” he repeated. “I’ll meet you at the park right across from your place.”
“Is this Internal Affairs business?”
“Let’s talk.” He gave her a winning smile that only increased her level of suspicion. “I’ll meet you there. I’m right behind you.”
She narrowed her eyes, checked her rearview, and saw he meant it literally. Saying nothing, she broke transmission.
She didn’t stop across from the gates of her home but drove another block and a half, on principle—then made certain she found the only convenient parking spot before she pulled in.
It didn’t surprise her when Webster simply double-parked and, ignoring the snooty glares from an elegant couple and their three equally stylish Afghan hounds, flipped on his On Duty light and joined her on the curb.
His smile had always been a handy weapon, and he used it now, keeping his light blue eyes friendly. His face was thin, sharp-angled, and would probably be termed scholarly as he aged. His dark brown hair waved a little and was cut to flatter.
“You’ve come up in the world, Dallas. This is some neighborhood.”
“Yeah, we have monthly block parties and get crazy. What do you want, Webster?”
“How’s it going?” He said it casually and started strolling toward the lush green and the trees still tender with spring.
Sucking in temper, she jammed her hands in her pockets and matched her steps with his. “It’s going fine. How about you?”
“Can’t complain. Nice evening. You gotta love spring in New York.”
“And how about those Yankees? Now, that should conclude our period of small talk. What do you want?”
“You never were much on chat.” He remembered very well the one and only time he’d managed to get her into bed; they hadn’t done any talking. “Why don’t we find a bench? Like I said, it’s a nice evening.”
“I don’t want to find a bench. I don’t want a soy dog, and I don’t want to talk about the weather. I want to go home. So if you don’t have anything interesting to say, that’s what I’m going to do.”
She turned, took three steps.
“You pulled the Kohli homicide.”
“That’s right.” She turned back, and her inner alarm system flashed to red light. “What does that have to do with IAB?”
“I didn’t say it had anything to do with IAB, other than the usual run we do when a cop goes down.”
“The usual run doesn’t mean a private meet, off duty, with the primary.”
“We go back a ways.” He lifted a hand. “Hell, all the way back to the Academy. It seemed friendlier this way.”
She kept her eyes on his as she walked to him, stood toe to toe. “Don’t insult me, Webster. Where does IAB come into my investigation?”
“Look, I’ve seen the prelim. This is a rough one. Rough on the department, his squad, his family.”
Something started clicking in her brain. “Did you know Kohli?”
“Not really.” Webster gave a thin smile, just a little bitter at the edges. “Most detectives don’t care to socialize with Internal Affairs. Funny how we all frown over a dirty cop, but nobody wants to rub elbows with the ones digging them out.”
“Are you saying Kohli was dirty?”
“I’m not saying that at all. I wouldn’t be at liberty to discuss an internal investigation with you, if there was an internal investigation.”
“Bullshit, Webster. Just bullshit. I have a dead cop. If he was mixed up in something off, I need to know.”
“I can’t discuss IAB business with you. It came to my attention that you’ve opened his financials.”
She paused a minute as her temper threatened to spike. “I can’t discuss a homicide investigation with you. And why would part of the procedure of that investigation come to the attention of the Rat Squad?”
“Now you’re trying to piss me off.” He kept his composure, gave a little shrug. “I thought I would give you a heads-up, unofficially and in a friendly manner, that the department, as a whole, will be better off if this investigation is closed quickly and quietly.”
“Was Kohli in bed with Ricker?”
This time a muscle jumped in Webster’s cheek, but his voice stayed smooth. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Digging into Detective Kohli’s financials is a dead end, Dallas, and will upset his family. The man was killed off duty.”
“A man was beaten to death. A cop. A woman’s been widowed. Two children lost their father. And it’s supposed to matter less that it happened when he was off duty?”
“No.” He had the grace or the wit to look uncomfortable. And then to look away. “That’s just the way it went down. That’s all there is to it.”
“Don’t tell me how to do my job, Webster. Don’t ever tell me how to conduct a homicide investigation. You gave up cop work. I didn’t.”
“Dallas.” He caught up with her before she reached the curb again. He gripped her arm and braced himself for the storm when she whirled on him.
Instead, she met his eyes, her own cold, flat, empty. “Move your hand. Now.”
He complied, slipping his into his pocket. “I’m just trying to tell you IAB wants this closed quiet.”
“What makes you think I give one good fuck about what IAB wants? You have something to say to me regarding my investigation into the death of Detective Taj Kohli, you do it in an official capacity. Don’t tail me again, Webster. Not ever.”
She climbed into her car, waited for a break in the mild traffic, and swung into a U-turn.
He watched her cover the distance, then turn into the high gates of the world she lived in now. He took three deep breaths, and when that didn’t work, kicked viciously at his own rear tire.
He hated what he’d done. And more, he hated knowing he’d never really gotten over her.
She was steaming when she barreled down the drive to the great stone house Roarke had made his home. And hers.
So much, she thought, for checking your work at the door. What the hell were you supposed to do when it followed you to the damn threshold? Webster was up to something, which meant there was an agenda here, and the agenda was IAB’s.
Now she had to calm herself down so she could filter out her annoyance at being waylaid by him. It was more important to puzzle out what he’d been trying to tell her. And more important yet, to calculate what he’d been so damn careful not to tell her.
She left the car at the end of the drive because she liked it there and because it annoyed Roarke’s majordomo, the consistently irritating Summerset.
She grabbed her bag that held the files and was halfway up the steps when she stopped. Deliberately, she blew out a long, cleansing breath, turned, and simply sat down.
It was time to try something new, she decided. Time to sit and enjoy the pleasant spring evening, enjoy the gorgeous simplicity of the flowering trees and shrubs that spread over the lawn, speared into the sky. She’d lived here for more than a year now and rarely, very rarely took time to see. Time to appreciate what Roarke had built or the style with which he’d built it.
The house itself with its sweeps and turrets and dazzling expanses of glass was a monument to taste, wealth, and elegant comfort. There were too many rooms to count filled with art, antiques, and every pleasure and convenience a man could make for himself.
But the grounds, she thought, were another level. This was a man who needed room, who demanded it. And commanded it. At the same time, he was a man who could appreciate the simple appeal of a flower that would bloom and fade with its season.
He’d decorated his grounds with those flowers, with trees that would outlive both of them, with shrubs that spread and fountained. And closed it all away with the high stone walls, the iron gates, and the rigid security that kept the city outside.
But it was still there, the city, sniffing around the edges like a hungry, restless dog.
That was part of it. Part of the duality of Roarke. And, she supposed, of her.
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