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"Sweet Jesus!" Detective Tony Miro said, crossing himself as he stared at the corpse.
The cemetery itself had already been closed off, yellow crime tape surrounding the area around the mausoleum. Jagger DeFarge had been assigned as lead detective on the case, and he knew he should have been complimented, but in reality he just felt wearyand deeply concerned.
Beyond the concern one felt over any victim of murder or violent crime.
This was far worse. This threatened a rising body count to come.
Gus Parissi, a young uniformed cop, stuck his head inside the mausoleum. The light was muted, streaks of sunlight that filtered in through the ironwork filigree at the top end of the little house within the "city of the dead."
Gus stared at the dead woman.
"Sweet Jesus," he echoed, and also crossed himself.
Jagger winced, looking away for a moment, waiting. He wanted to be alone with the victim, but he had a partner. Being alone wasn't going to be easy.
"Thank you, Parissi," Jagger said. "The crime-scene crew can have the place in ten minutes. Hey, Miro, go on out and see who's on the job today, will you?"
Miro was still just staring.
"And get another interview with Tom Cooley, too. He's the guide who saw her and called it in, right?" Jagger asked.
"Uhyeah, yeah," Tony said, closing his mouth at last, turning and following Gus out.
Alone at last, my poor, poor dear, Jagger thought.
The dust of the ages seemed to have settled within the burial chamber, on the floor, on the stone and concrete walls, on the plaques that identified the dead within the vault. In contrast, the young woman on the tomb was somehow especially beautiful and pristine, a vision in white, like an angel. Sighing, Jagger walked over to the body. To all appearances, she was sleeping like a heavenly being in her pure perfection.
He pulled out his pocket flashlight to look for the bite marks that had to exist. He gently and carefully moved her hair, but there were no marks on her neck. He searched her thighs, then her arms, his eyes quick but thorough.
At last he found what he sought. He doubted that the medical examinereven with the most up-to-date technology availablewould ever find the tiny pinpricks located in the crease at her elbow.
He swore out loud just as Tony returned.
His partner was a young cop. A good cop, and not a squeamish one. Most of the crimes taking place these days had to do with a sudden flare of temper and, as always, drugs. Tony had worked a homicide with him just outside the Quarter in which a kid the size of a pro linebacker had taken a shotgun blast in the face. Tony had been calm and professional throughout the grisly first inspection, then handled the player's mother with gentle care.
Today, however, he seemed freaked.
"What?" Tony asked.
Jagger shook his head. "No blood here at all, no signs of violence. No lividity, but she's still in rigor. Is the M.E. here?"
"Send him in," Jagger said. "Have you interviewed the guide yet?"
Tony, staring at the body, shook his head. "One of the uniforms went to find him."
"He can't have gone far. Stay out there until they find him and interview him. And anyone who was with him. Then meet me back at the station, and we'll get her picture out in the media. I want uniforms raking the neighborhood, the dumpsters, you name it, looking for a purse, clothing, anything they can find."
Tony nodded and left.
The M.E. the Coroner's Office had sent out that morning was Craig Dewey. Dewey looked like anything but the general conception of what a medical examiner should: he was tall, blond, about thirty-five. Basically, until they found out what he did for a living, most women considered him a heartthrob.
Like the others, he paused in the door. But Dewey didn't stand there stunned and frozen as Tony and Gus had done. He did stare, but Jagger could see that his keen blue eyes were taking in the scene, top to bottom, before he approached the corpse. Finally that stare focused on the victim. He looked at her for a long while, then turned to Jagger.
"Well, here's one for the books," he said, his tone matter-of-fact. "On initial inspection, without even touching her, I'd say she's been entirely drained of blood." He looked around. "And it wasn't done here."
"No. I'd say not," Jagger agreed with what appeared to be obvious.
"Such a pity, and so strange. Murder is never beautiful, and yet she is beautiful," Dewey commented.
"Dewey, give me something that isn't in plain sight," Jagger said.
Dewey went to work. He was efficient and methodical. He had his camera out, the flash going as he shot the body from every conceivable angle. Then he approached the woman, checked for liver temperature and shook his head. "She's still in rigor. Other than the fact that she's about bloodless, I have no idea what's going on here. I'll need to get her into the morgue to figure out how and why she died. I can't find anything to show how it might have happened. Odd, really odd. A body without blood wouldn't shock mewe seem to attract wackos to this city all the timebut I can't find so much as a pinprick to explain what happened. Hell, like I said, I've got to get her out of here to check further. Lord knows, enough people around here think they're vampires."
"Right, I know," Jagger said. "When did she die? I was estimating late last night or early this morning."
"Then you're right on," Dewey told him. "She died sometime between midnight and two in the morning, but give me fifteen minutes either side."
"I want everything you get as quickly as you get it," Jagger said.
"I have two shooting deaths, a motorcycle accident, a possible vehicular homicidenot to mention that the D.A.'s determined to harass an octogenarian over her husband's death, even though he's been suffering from cancer for years" Dewey broke off, seeing the set expression on Jagger's face. "Sure, Lafarge. I'll put a rush on it. This is the kind of thing you've got to get a handle on quickly, God knows. We get enough sensationalist media coverage around here. I don't want to see a frenzy start."
"Thanks," Jagger told him.
He looked around the Grigsby family tomb one more time. It was what he didn't see that he noted. No fingerprints in the dust. No footprints. No sign whatsoever of how the girl had come to lie, bloodless and beautiful, upon the dusty tomb of a long dead patriarch.
He wanted the CSUs, Tony and the uniforms all busy here. He had some investigating to do that he needed to tackle on his own.
He lowered his sunglasses from the top of his head to his eyes and walked back out into the brilliant light of the early fall morning.
The sky was cloudless and brilliantly blue. The air was pleasant, without the dead heat of summer.
It seemed to be a day when the world was vibrant. Positively pulsing with life.
"Hey, Detective DeFarge!"
It was Celia Larson, forty, scrubbed, the no-nonsense head of the crime-scene unit that had been assigned. "Can we go on in? I've had my folks working the area, around the entry, around the tomb but, hey, with the cemeteries around here being such tourist hangouts, folks had been tramping around for an hour before we got the call. We've collected every possible sample we could, but we really need to get inside."
"It's all yours, Celia. And good luck."
She leaned into the mausoleum and said accusingly, "You and Dewey have tramped all over the footprints."
"There were no footprints."
"There had to be footprints," she said flatly, as if he was the worst kind of fool.
He shrugged and smiled.
"None, but, hey, you're the expert. You'll see what we missed, right?" he asked pleasantly. Celia wasn't his favorite civil servant with whom to work. She considered every police officer, from beat cop right on up to detective, to be an oaf with nothing better to do than mess up her crime scene. She didn't seem to understand the concept of teamworkor that she was the technician, and the detectives used her information to put the pieces together, find the suspect and make the arrest. Celia had seen way too many CSI-type shows and had it in her head that she was going to be the detective who solved every case. Still, he did his best to be level-tempered and professional, if not pleasant. He did have to work with the woman.
"Get me a good picture of the face, Celia. We'll get her image out to the media."
She waved a hand dismissively, and he walked on.
This wasn't going to be an ordinary case. And he wasn't going to be able to investigate in any of the customary ways.
He made it as far as the sidewalk.
Then he saw real trouble.
He groaned inwardly. Of course she would show up. Of coursedespite the fact that he'd only just seen the corpse himself, word had traveled.
She didn't look like trouble. Oddly enough, she came with a smile that was pure charm, and she was, in fact, stunning. She was tall and slim and lithe, mercurial in her graceful movements.
Her eyes were blue. They could be almost as aqua as the sea, as light as a summer sky, as piercing as midnight.
Naturally she was a blonde. Not that brunettes couldn't be just as beautiful, just as angelic lookingor just as manipulative.
She had long blond hair. Like her eyes, it seemed to change. It could appear golden in the sun, platinum in moonlight and always as smooth and soft as silk as it curled over her shoulders. She had a fringe of bangs that were both waiflike and the height of fashion.
And naturally she was here.
Sunglasses shaded her eyes, as they did his. The Southern Louisiana sun could be brutal. Most people walked around during the day with shades on.
"Well, hello, Miss MacDonald," he said, heading for his car. Officers had blocked the entry to the cemetery and the borders of the scene itself with crime-scene tape. But the sidewalk was fair game. The news crews had arrived and staked it out, and the gawkers were lining up, as well.
Before Fiona MacDonald could reply, one of the local network news reporters saw him and charged over, calling, "Detective! Detective DeFarge!" It was Andrea "Andy" Larkin. She was a primped and proper young woman who had recently been transferred from her network's Ohio affiliate. She was a fish out of water down here.
She was followed by her cameraman, and he was followed by a pack of other reporters. The local cable stations and newspapers were all present. And yes, there came the other network newscasters.
He stopped. Might as well handle the press now, he thought, though the department's community rep really should be fielding the questions. But if he dodged the reporters, it would just make things worse.
He held his ground, aware that Fiona was watching him from a spot not far from the cemetery wall. He wasn't going to escape the reporters, and he definitely wasn't going to escape her.
"Detective DeFarge?" Andy Larkin had apparently assigned herself to be the spokeswoman for the media crew. "We've heard a young woman has been found drained of blood. Who was she? Do you think we have some kind of cultists at work in the area? Was it a ritual sacrifice?"
He lifted a hand as a clamoring of questions arose, one voice indistinguishable from the next.
"Ladies, gentlemen, please! We've just begun our investigation into this case. Yes, we have discovered the body of a young woman in a mausoleum, but that's all that I can really tell you at the moment. We'll have the preliminary autopsy reports in a day or so, which will answer any questions about the state of the body. We don't have an identity for the victim, and it's far too early for me to speculate in any way on whether this is a singular incident or not. However, at this time I have no reason to suspect that we have a cult at work in the city. As soon as I have information, you'll have information. That's absolutely all that I am at liberty to say at the moment."
"But" Andy Larkin began.
"At any time that I can, without jeopardizing our investigation, I will be happy to see to it that the news media is advised."
"Wait!" A man from one of the rags spoke up; he was probably in his early twenties, taking the best job available to a young journalism graduate. His hair was long and shaggy, and he was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, and carrying a notepad rather than an electronic device of any kind. "Shouldn't you be warning the citizens of New Orleans to be careful? Shouldn't you be giving them a profile of the killer?"
Jagger hoped his sunglasses fully covered his eyes as he inadvertently stared over at Fiona MacDonald.
She had a profile of the killer, he was certain.
"We don't know anything yet. I repeatwe've just begun our investigation. I'm going to give young women in this city the same warning I give all the time: be smart, and be careful. Don't go walking the streets alone in the dark. Let someone know where you're going at all times, and if you go out to party, don't go alone. People, use common sense. That's my warning."
"But aren't serial killers usually young white men between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five?" shouted a tiny woman from the rear. She was Livy Drew, from a small local cable station.
He reminded himself that he had to stay calmand courteous. The public affairs department was much better at that, though, and he fervently wished they would hurry up and get there.
"Livy, there's nothing to indicate that we have a serial killer on our hands."
"You're denying that this is the work of a serial killer?"
"I'm not denying or confirming anything," he said, fighting for patience. "One more timeour investigation is just beginning. Yes, young women should take special care, because yes, a young woman has been killed. Now, if you'll let me get to work, I'll be able to answer more questions for you in the future. Though we have no ID on her yet, we may make a hit with fingerprints or dental impressions, and we'll have a picture available for you soon. And, as always, the department will be grateful for any information that can help us identify the victimand find her killer. But no heroics from anyone, please. Just call the station with any information you may have."
Someone called from the back of the crowd. "Detective, what"
"That's all!" Jagger said firmly, then turned to head for his car, parked almost directly in front of the gates. He looked for Fiona MacDonald, but she was gone.