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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 doorsas 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 shoeshard-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 feelevery 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 scentone she didn't recognizethat 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.