Read an Excerpt
A Samantha Kincaid Mystery
By Alafair Burke
Henry Holt and Company Copyright © 2004 Alafair Burke
All rights reserved.
If it's true that dreams come from the id, then my id is not particularly creative.
The dream that makes its way into my bed tonight is the same one that has troubled my sleep almost every night for the past month. Once again, I relive the events that led to the deaths of three men.
The walls of the stairway pass as a man follows me upstairs. I force myself to focus on my own movements, trying to block out thoughts of the other man downstairs, armed and determined to kill me when I return.
Time slows as I duck beside my bed, reach for the pistol hidden in my nightstand, and rise up to surprise him. The .25 caliber automatic breaks the silence; more shots follow downstairs. Glass shatters. Heavy footsteps thunder through the house. In the dream, I see bullets rip through flesh and muscle, the scene tinted red like blood smeared across my retinas.
I usually wake during the chaos. Tonight, though, the silence returns, and I walk past the dead bodies to my kitchen. I open the pantry door and find a woman whose face I know only from photographs and a brief introduction two years ago. She is crouched on the floor with her head between her knees. When she looks up at me and reaches for my hand, the phone rings, and I'm back in my bedroom.
It is four o'clock in the morning, and as usual I wake up chilly, having kicked my comforter deep into the crevice between my mattress and the footboard of my maple sleigh bed. I fumble for the phone on my nightstand, still ringing in the dark.
"This better be worth it," I say.
It's Detective Raymond Johnson of the Portland Police Bureau's Major Crimes Team. A member of the search team has found a woman's size-seven black Cole Haan loafer in the gutter, but Clarissa Easterbrook is still missing.
The call came only eight hours after my boss, District Attorney Duncan Griffith, had first summoned me to the Easterbrook home. It was my first call-out after a month-long hiatus and a new promotion from the Drug and Vice Division into Major Crimes. I was told it would just be some quick PR work to transition me back into the office.
So far, the transition had been rough.
When I pulled into the Easterbrook driveway that first evening, I cut the engine and sat for a few last quiet moments in my Jetta. Noticing Detective Johnson waiting for me at the front window, I took a deep breath, released the steering wheel, and climbed out of the car, grabbing my briefcase from the passenger seat as I exhaled.
I climbed a series of steep slate steps, a trek made necessary by the home's impressive hillside location. Despite the spring mist, I was able to take in the exterior. Dr. Townsend Easterbrook was clearly no slouch. I wasn't sure which was bigger, the double-door entranceway or the Expedition I'd parked next to.
Johnson opened one of the doors before I'd had a chance to use either of the square pewter knockers. I could make out voices at the back of the house; Johnson kept his own down. "Sat in that car so long, Kincaid, thought something might be wrong with your feet."
At least my first case back on the job brought some familiar faces. I had met Raymond Johnson and his partner, Jack Walker, only two months ago, when I was a mere drug and vice deputy. But given the history, however recent, I felt a bond with these guys — the gunky kind that threatens to stick around for good.
"You must not have given up all hope, Johnson. You were waiting at the door."
"I was beginning to wonder, but then you tripped something off walking up the path, and I heard a voice somewhere announcing a visitor. George fucking Jetson house. Gives me the creeps."
The Easterbrook home wasn't exactly cozy, but I'd take it. Neutral colors, steel, and low sleek furniture — the place was a twenty-first century update on 1960s kitsch.
With any luck, Clarissa Easterbrook would turn up soon, and there'd be no need to disrupt all this coolness.
Johnson caught my eye as I studied the house. "Look at you, girl. You're almost as dark as I am." He grabbed my hand and held it next to the back of his. Not even close. Johnson's beautiful skin is about as dark as it comes.
"Yeah, but you're still better looking."
He laughed but it was true. He also dressed better than me — more Hollywood red carpet than police precinct lineoleum. "Griffith dragged you back from Maui just for this?"
"I flew in last night. I sort of assumed I'd have Sunday to myself before I headed back in tomorrow, but the boss must have thought it would do me good to get some hand-holding practice while we wait for Easterbrook to turn up. You know, ease me out of drug cases into the new gig."
"They usually do," Johnson said. "Turn up, I mean. She probably went shopping and lost track of time or went out for a drink with the girls."
"Right, because, of course, that's all women do in their spare time: shopping and girl talk."
"This is going to take some getting used to, Kincaid, after seven years of MCT work with O'Donnell."
I didn't react to the mention of my predecessor. "Just doing my part to lead you down the path of enlightenment, Ray. Clarissa Easterbrook's an administrative law judge, not some bored housewife."
"Oh, so it's only women lawyers who excel beyond malls and gossip. Got it. Note to all detectives," he said, as if he were speaking into a dictation recorder, "the new Major Crimes Unit DA says it's still OK to diss housewives." He dropped the routine and cocked a finger at me. "Busted!"
There was no arguing it, so I laughed instead. "Who's in the back?" I asked, leaning my head toward the ongoing murmurs.
"Walker's back there with the husband and the sister. We got here about half an hour ago, and the sister showed up right after. We haven't been able to do much more than try to calm them down. We need to start working on the timeline, though. I stayed out here to wait for you. I suspect Dr. Easterbrook's still getting used to having a brother in the house."
It was unusual to have MCT involved so early in a missing persons case, but Walker and Johnson were here from the bureau's Major Crimes Team for the same reason I was: to make sure that our offices looked responsive and concerned when the missing judge showed up and to triple-check that the investigation was perfect, just in case she didn't.
"Sounds good. I'll do my part for the family and any press, but for now you guys take the lead on interviews."
"Music to my ears, Kincaid."
He began walking toward the back of the house, but I stopped him with a hand on his elbow. "I assume you're keeping things gentle for now, just in case. And absolutely no searches, not even with consent." If Clarissa Easterbrook had encountered anything criminal, everyone close to her would become a suspect, especially her husband. We couldn't do anything now that might jeopardize our investigation down the road.
"I should've known it was too good to be true. All DAs just got to have their say. It's in the blood." I could tell from his smile that he wasn't annoyed. "No worries, now."
We made our way to the kitchen, walking past a built-in rock fountain that served as a room divider. The Easterbrooks had sprung for marble countertops and stainless steel, Sub-Zero everything, but it looked like no one ever cooked here. In fact, as far as I could tell, no one even lived here. The only hint of disorder was in a corner of the kitchen, where the contents of a canvas book bag were spread out on the counter next to a frazzled-looking brunette. She had a cell phone to one ear and an index finger in the other.
Jack Walker greeted us. With his short sleeves, striped tie, and bald head, he had enough of the cop look going to make up for his partner. "Welcome back. You look great," he said into my ear as he shook my hand with a friendly squeeze. "Dr. Easterbrook, this is Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid."
There are women who would describe Townsend Easterbrook as good-looking. His brown hair was worn just long enough and with just enough gray at the temples to suggest a lack of attention to appearance, but the Brooks Brothers clothes told another story. On the spectrum between sloppy apathetic and sloppy preppy, there was no question where this man fell.
He seemed alarmed by the introduction. At first I assumed he was nervous. I quickly realized it was something else entirely.
"Please, call me Townsend. Gosh, I apologize if I was staring. I recognized you from the news, but it took me a moment to draw the connection."
It hadn't dawned on me that, at least for the foreseeable future, former strangers would know me as the local Annie Oakley. One more daily annoyance. Terrific.
"I'm sorry to meet you under these circumstances, Dr. Easterbrook. Duncan had to be in Salem tonight, but he wanted me to assure you that our office will do everything within our power to help find your wife."
When Griffith called, he had insisted that I use his first name with the family and assure Dr. Easterbrook that he would have been here personally if he weren't locked in legislative hearings. Other missing people might disappear with little or no official response, but Dr. Easterbrook's phone call to 911 had ripped like a lightning bolt through the power echelon. The wife was sure to turn up, but this was Griffith's chance to say I feel your pain.
And Easterbrook clearly was in pain. "Thank you for coming so quickly," he said, his voice shaking. "I feel foolish now that you're all here, but we weren't sure what we should be doing. Clarissa's sister and I have been calling everyone we can possibly think of."
"That's your sister-in-law?" I asked, looking toward the woman in the corner, still clutching the phone.
"Yes. Tara. She came in from The Dalles. I called her earlier to see if she'd heard from Clarissa today. Then I called her again when I saw that our dog, Griffey, was gone, too."
Walker tapped the pocket-size notebook he held in his hand with a dainty gold pen that didn't suit him. Most likely a gift from one of his six daughters, it looked tiny between his sausage fingers. "Dr. Easterbrook was just telling me he got home from the hospital at six-thirty tonight. His wife was home when he left this morning at six."
A twelve-hour day probably wasn't unusual for the attending surgeon at Oregon Health Sciences University's teaching hospital, even on a Sunday. Looking at him now, though, it was hard to imagine him steadying a scalpel just four hours ago.
Easterbrook continued where he must have left off. "She was still in bed when I left. Sort of awake but still asleep." He was staring blankly in front of him, probably remembering how cute his wife is when she is sleepy. "She hadn't mentioned any plans, so when I got home and she wasn't here, I assumed she went out to the market. We usually have dinner in on Sundays, as long as I'm home."
"You've checked for her car," Walker said. It was more of a statement than a question.
"Right. That was the first thing I did once I was out of my scrubs: I changed clothes and walked down to the garage. When I saw the Lexus, I thought she must have walked somewhere. I tried her cell, but I kept getting her voice mail. Finally, around eight, I thought to look out back for Griffey. When I saw he was gone too, I drove around the neighborhood for what must have been an hour. I finally got so worried I called the police."
In the corner, Clarissa's sister snapped her cell phone shut and blew her bangs from her eyes. "That's it. I've called everyone," she said, looking up. "Oh, sorry. I didn't realize anyone else was here."
"From the District Attorney's office," Townsend explained. "Ms. — Kincaid, this is Clarissa's sister, Tara Carney."
It was hard to see the resemblance. My guess is they were both pushing forty, Tara perhaps a little harder, but they had been different kinds of years. Clarissa was a thin frosted blonde who favored pastel suits and high heels. Tara's dark brown pageboy framed a round face, and she looked at ease — at least physically — in her dark green sweat suit and sneakers.
She acknowledged me with a nod. "I called everyone I can think of, and no one's heard from her today. This just isn't like her."
"She's never gone out for the day without telling someone?" Walker asked.
They both shook their heads in frustration. "Nothing like this at all," Townsend said. "She often runs late at work during the week, we both do. But she wouldn't just leave the house like this on the weekend. With the dog, for hours? Something must be wrong."
We asked all the other obvious questions, but Tara and Townsend had covered the bases before dialing 911. They had knocked on doors, but the neighbors hadn't noticed anything. Clarissa hadn't left a note. They didn't even know what she was wearing, because when Townsend left that morning she was still in her pajamas.
Her purse and keys were missing along with Griffey, but Townsend doubted she was walking the dog. She always walked him in the morning, and sometimes they walked him together after dinner if they were both home. But she didn't take Griffey out alone after dark. Anyway, we were talking about ten-minute potty trips, not all-night strolls.
Walker was rising from his chair. "Finding out how she's dressed is a priority." He was shifting into action mode. "If we go through some of her things, do you think you might be able to figure out what she's wearing?"
"You would be the one to go through your wife's belongings," I corrected. We had to keep this by the book. "I think what Detective Walker's suggesting is that you might be able to tell what clothes are missing if you look at what's here."
"Right," Walker agreed. "And it would help to get a detailed description out as fast as possible." It would also help us determine if we were all wasting our time. Maybe Clarissa had packed a suitcase and her dog to run off voluntarily with a new man — or simply to a new life without this one.
"You either overestimate my familiarity with clothing or underestimate Clarissa's wardrobe. Tara, can you help? I doubt I can be of any use."
I suggested that we all go upstairs together while Tara looked through Clarissa's closet. Johnson offered to stay downstairs in case anyone knocked, but Easterbrook assured him that the house's "smart system" would alert us if anyone approached the door. Of course, Johnson already knew that, so I gave him a warning look over my shoulder to join me as I followed Townsend and Tara up the hammered-steel staircase. No way was he sneaking around down here while the family was upstairs, especially in a house with its own intelligence system.
The Easterbrook master suite was the size of my entire second floor, a thousand square feet of spa-style opulence. Townsend led us through a large sitting area, past the king-size bed, and around the back of a partial wall that served as the bed's headboard. I couldn't help but notice that the lip balm on the nightstand was the same brand as my own, the paperback novel one I'd read last year.
The back of the suite contained a marble-rich bathroom adjoining a dressing area roughly the size of Memphis. Townsend wasn't kidding about his wife's wardrobe.
Tara started flipping through the piles of folded clothes stacked neatly into maple cubes. The hanging items looked work-related.
After she'd gone through the top two rows, Tara blew her bangs out of her face again. "She tends to wear the same few things when she's around the house, but the ones I can remember are all here. I just don't know."
Townsend stood in the corner of the closet, seemingly distracted by a pair of Animal Cracker print pajamas that hung from a hook. Tara was unfazed by the moment's poignancy, or at least she did not let it halt her determination. She was examining rows of shoes stacked neatly on a rack built into the side of the closet. "Well, it looks like her favorite black loafers are gone. Cole Haans, I think. But I can't tell what clothes are missing; she's just got too much stuff."
She walked over to a Nordstrom shopping bag on the floor next to the dressing table. She pulled out a red sweater, set it on the table, and then reached back in and removed some loose price tags and a receipt. "These are from yesterday," she said, looking at the receipt. "Town, these are Clarissa's, right?"
She had to repeat the question before he responded. "Oh, right, she did mention something about that last night, I think."
"Can you tell anything from the tags?" Walker asked.
"No," Tara said. "Well, the brand name, but then it's just those meaningless style names and numbers."
"Did anyone go shopping with her? We could find out what she bought from them," I suggested. I knew I told Johnson I'd leave the questions to them, but I couldn't help myself.
Excerpted from Missing Justice by Alafair Burke. Copyright © 2004 Alafair Burke. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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