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By C.E. LAWRENCE
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2011 C. E. Lawrence
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCandy Nugent wandered into the cavernous room and looked around. She was feeling insecure, which increased her determination to act utterly confident. Her fingers fiddled with the laces on her leather corset before flitting nervously to her face. She had tied the corset too tight, and could barely breathe, but she liked the curve it gave to her thin torso, pulling in her waist and shoving what little flesh she had on her chest upward, so that her breasts nearly spilled out of the lacy blouse she wore underneath the corset. Her black skirt was short and snug against her hips, showing off her slim legs in their black fishnet stockings.
She especially liked the ankle-high boots with their spiky heels and lace-up buttonholes—sixteen of them in all. The only real problem with her outfit was the goggles, which kept slipping on her shiny hair, falling down to her forehead and over her eyes. She put her hand up and pushed the goggles back on top of her head. They weren't meant to be worn over her eyes, Francois had told her—they were just decoration, part of the look.
Francois knew way more about steampunk than she did. Candy was a follower, and always had been, whereas Francois was an innovator. At least that's what he called himself: an innovator, ahead of the pack, a trendsetter. There could be worse things, she supposed, than having a brother who was a trendsetter—or thought he was. She had learned that with Francois it was usually easier to go along with him than to argue.
And so here she was: in New York City's "first bona fide steampunk club," way downtown in the no-man's-land east of Chinatown. Even the cabby had trouble finding it—and the entrance wasn't marked, which was part of what made it so cool, according to Francois.
The room was dark, but the copper fixtures on the walls gleamed and she had to blink to adjust her eyes. A huge brass boiler in the center of the room dominated the space. Red leather banquettes lined the walls; in front of each was a low table that looked to be made of industrial steel. At the far end of the room a long bar of burnished walnut sported a polished brass railing; to either side of it thick tapestries hung from the ceiling. A lavish chandelier in the center of the room was the brightest source of light, though even with the gas-burning wall sconces, the atmosphere was dark. Plush Persian carpets covered the concrete floors, as deep and soft as summer grass. She took a few steps forward, searching the crowd for a sign of her brother.
She was pleased to see that she fit in—at least as far as her wardrobe was concerned. The room was filled with other people dressed in much the same fashion as she was. The men wore nineteenth-century waistcoats, vests, and cravats; the more elegant ones were dressed in tails and top hats. Some were dressed more informally, in knee breeches and leather aviator caps—always with the ubiquitous goggles. The women wore anything from long Victorian gowns to short skirts like hers, but the scene was just as Francois had described it: nineteenth-century elegance meets industrialized goth fashion.
A tall brunette in a red satin gown approached her and gave her an appraising look. Candy seemed to meet with her approval—a smile flickered across the woman's face and she nodded grandly as she swept by. As she passed, Candy inhaled the aroma of an old-fashioned perfume ... was it patchouli? She wasn't sure.
She turned to see a young man sidling toward her. He was tall and thin, but in the wiry way she liked, with long, stringy muscles and taut pale skin. He had shiny black hair that bounced when he walked, and full red lips. He wore his grey morning coat and striped stovepipe trousers with such ease he looked as though he had been born in them. A maroon cravat was tied rakishly around his throat, and he carried an elegant black silver-tipped walking stick.
"Why, hello," he said in an affected English accent. "I say, I haven't seen you around here before. What's your blood type?"
She stared at him, then burst out laughing. "Does that really work for you as a pickup line?"
He smiled down at her. "Don't you think it's better than asking what your sign is?"
He shrugged and glanced around the room, twirling his ebony cane between his fingers like a baton. She couldn't help admiring his long, delicate hands and perfectly manicured nails. She also noticed the handle of the cane was a grinning skeleton head.
"Well?" he said. "I'm waiting."
"Why do you want to know?"
He tapped the top of his head lightly with the cane. "Call it ghoulish curiosity. Haven't you heard? We're all mad scientists here. Come along, humor me—there's a good girl."
"I'm O Negative," she said, looking around the room for any sign of her brother. The crowd at the bar was thickening, and was now three bodies deep.
"Ah," he said, "lucky you—the universal donor."
"Hey," she said, "do you know my brother, Francois?"
His face broke out in a grin. "Francois's your brother? I should say I do know him!"
She smiled at the mannered British accent. That was an aspect of steampunk she found kind of—well, geeky. All these nerds and geeks walking around pretending to be English gentleman scientists and explorers ... it was actually kind of embarrassing.
"Is he here yet?" she asked.
"He jolly well is," the young man replied. "He's in the Boiler Room."
She frowned. "The Boiler Room?"
"Oh, we just call it that," he said. "It's a separate room off the main one, and it's a bit stuffy, so we call it the Boiler Room."
"Oh," she said, craning her neck to see through the crowd.
"I say, shall I take you there?" he asked cheerfully.
"Walk this way," he called over his shoulder, striding away from the crowd toward a more secluded corner of the vast room.
Candy gave a last glance behind her at the swarm of people laughing and drinking and flirting at the far end of the room. The aroma of—mutton?—floated to her nostrils, and her stomach burbled with hunger. Saliva spurted into her mouth, and she had a sudden desire for whatever it was they were serving to the guests at the party.
"Come along, now!" he barked at her, tapping his cane impatiently on the floor. "Mustn't keep Brother Franky waiting!"
"Coming!" she chirped, scurrying after him as fast as her spiky heels would allow. The notion registered dully in her head that no one who knew her brother ever called him "Franky"—he always insisted upon "Francois." But the thought evaporated as swiftly as it had formed, like a soap bubble bursting in midair.
Later, no one at the party could remember having spoken with her, though one or two people vaguely remembered seeing her. One of the guests, an elegant woman in a red satin gown, remembered her and thought that perhaps she was the same girl who left the party early, looking very drunk, but she couldn't say for certain. She was leaning on the arm of a tall young man, and appeared to know him—but the witness saw them leaving only from behind, and couldn't positively identify either one of them.
Chapter Two"You gotta be kiddin' me!"
Detective Leonard Butts leaned back in the heavily scarred captain's chair and folded his stubby arms over his round stomach. They just barely reached. His pockmarked face, as deeply grooved as the carved arms of the chair he sat in, wore an expression of aggrieved disbelief. It was a look NYPD criminal profiler Lee Campbell had seen before, and he thought it suited Butts.
"I mean, come on!" the pudgy detective continued, scowling up at his commander, Chuck Morton, head of the Bronx Major Crimes Unit. "Cause of death exsanguination? For god's sake, what is this, The Bride of Dracula?"
Chuck Morton tossed a manila folder at Butts, who caught it in one hand.
"Look at the lab report yourself," he said, turning away to pour himself a cup of coffee from the Krups automatic machine on the windowsill. A fly buzzed halfheartedly on the ledge, a leftover from a summer that had seemed too long and wasn't over yet. Chuck didn't seem even a little bit perturbed by the detective's reaction. By now, Lee figured, they both knew Butts well enough to let it slide until he calmed down—which he would eventually.
The three of them were gathered in Morton's office to discuss the bizarre murder of a young woman found in the Bronx two days earlier. The original primary on the case, Detective Fernando Rodriguez, had taken a sudden leave of absence due to a family illness, so the case had been assigned to his colleague, veteran Bronx homicide detective Leonard Butts.
Chuck's office was small and, as usual, rather stuffy. Slices of midmorning sunshine slid in through the grimy Venetian blinds, heating up the dust drifting in through the cracks in the window. The ancient air conditioner rattled and puffed energetically, cranking out only a meager semblance of cool air, which smelled of dirt and exhaust fumes.
Butts studied the report, frowning, the pockmarks on his forehead merging into a single deep crevice. "Okay," he admitted, "you got me. That's what it says here. So unless this is some kind of practical joke"—he glanced at Lee—"accordin' to this, we got someone who likes to drain victims of their blood."
"Or most of it," Chuck corrected.
"Whatever," Butts said. Heaving his thick body from the chair, he lumbered over to the desk and slapped the lab report down on it. "What we got here is some kinda high-tech vampire—right, Doc?" he asked Lee.
Lee looked at Chuck, who raised a single eyebrow. That could mean many things, as he knew from their days as roommates at Princeton, but this time he figured it meant he should humor the detective, whose scowling face resembled a grumpy English bulldog. Lee rested his lean body on the front of Chuck's desk and ran a hand through his curly black hair.
"The method of killing is bizarre enough that we have to consider the possibility this is the work of a—"
"Yeah, Doc, I know—a serial offender," Butts interrupted. "Otherwise, you wouldn't even be here—right?"
"Right," Chuck said.
Lee Campbell was the only full-time criminal profiler on the NYPD. This unique position was both an asset and a liability. He didn't carry a gun or a badge, and was essentially a civilian employee, albeit one who dealt with the most dangerous of criminals. Some of the beat cops didn't think much of him or his position on the force, while others, like Detective Butts, respected him, even if that respect was tinged with condescension.
"Where was she found?" Lee asked.
"Van Cortlandt Park," Chuck said. "Not far from Woodlawn—Gun Hill Road. Any significance to that, you think?"
Lee shook his head. "Too early to tell."
"Okay, let's have it," Butts said. "Whadda we got here?"
Lee picked up one of the crime scene photos and studied it. The girl lay on her back, face peaceful, arms at her sides. There were no obvious signs of assault—she might appear to be napping if it weren't for the grey pallor of her skin. She was young—too young—with soft brown hair and a sweet, angelic face. She looked to be about seventeen, but he caught himself hoping she was older. What a desultory thought, he mused—she was dead now, so what did it matter? She wore an odd costume—at least that's what it looked like, though Halloween was almost two months away.
He perched on the other captain's chair and spread the photos out on Chuck's desk. The victim wore a thick leather corset over a tiny silk skirt. The corset was festooned with half a dozen little metal flywheels and gears, like something from the interior of an old machine. On her head was a pair of leather goggles, and on her feet were ankle-high lace-up boots. The whole outfit gave the impression of Victorian fashion gone awry.
"What's with the getup?" Butts said, poking his head over Lee's shoulder.
"That's steampunk fashion," said Chuck.
Butts picked at something between his teeth with his thumb and forefinger. "What's that?"
Chuck opened the door and called out into the hall.
"Sergeant Ruggles, can you come in here, please?"
He barely had time to turn around before his ever-attentive sergeant appeared at the door, pressed and polished as a new penny.
Ever since Ruggles had taken over as Morton's desk sergeant, Lee noticed that things at the station house ran more smoothly. Telephone calls were returned promptly, the duty roster was met with less griping, and—most important—his old friend seemed more relaxed, better rested, and happier. Not that happiness was a liqueur Chuck Morton allowed himself very often. He was a creature of duty, and had been ever since Lee had known him. But Lee was grateful for Ruggles, and thought Morton was too, even if he would never allow himself to show it.
Ruggles stood at attention, the morning sun gleaming on his shiny pink head. He couldn't be older than thirty, yet he was bald as a piglet. His small blue eyes shone brightly in his bullet-shaped face.
"Yes, sir?" he said, his accent pure North Country—England, not New York state. "What can I do for you?"
"Tell Detective Butts and Dr. Campbell about steampunk," Chuck said.
"Very good, sir." He turned to Butts and Lee. "Well, you see, sir, it's a recent variation on cyberpunk. It started out as a literary movement of science fiction and fantasy, and has its own set of aesthetics. They're all into Victorian clothing by way of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells—that kind of thing."
Butts scratched his chin. "Why 'steam'?"
"The stories take place in an era when steam power is still widely used, sir," Ruggles replied, "but they tend to have fantastical or science fiction storylines. They have their own music, too, and there's a theme of rebellious outsiders—that's the 'punk' element, you see."
"Jeez," Butts said. "How do you know all this?"
The ruddy hue of Ruggles's face deepened. "Well, you see, sir, I, uh—"
"It's all right, Ruggles—you can tell them," Chuck coaxed.
"I played in a steampunk band myself, you see, sir—back home."
"In England?" Lee asked.
"What was it called?" Butts said.
Ruggles bit his lip.
"Go on," said Chuck, with a little smile, obviously enjoying his sergeant's discomfort. "What was the name of the band, Ruggles?"
Ruggles cleared his throat. "The Dastardly Gentlemen." Butts stifled a cough. "Really?"
"Yes, sir," Ruggles said miserably, staring at his polished black shoes.
"Thank you, Sergeant," Chuck said, releasing him from his torment. "That's all for now."
"Very good, sir," Ruggles replied, and fled.
"So," said Lee, "this outfit means the victim is a steampunk fan?"
"Or at least she's tryin' to be," Butts remarked. "Why do you mean 'trying'?" asked Chuck.
Butts poured himself a cup of coffee from the white Krups machine. He heaped in two large spoonfuls of sugar and stirred thoughtfully. "There's somethin' about her that doesn't ring true. Can't quite put my finger on it. Like she's just pretending or something, you know?"
"That's interesting," said Lee. "So maybe she's a newcomer to the scene?"
"Yeah, somethin' like that. I dunno," Butts said, taking a large gulp of coffee. "Ow—that's hot," he said, fanning his mouth.
"I'd be inclined to trust your instincts, Detective," Morton remarked.
"I think I know what he means," Lee said, leaning in toward the photo. "Everything she's wearing looks brand new—like she bought it just for the occasion."
"Yeah—you're right," Butts agreed. "That's it! Hey, we make a good team, Doc."
Lee smiled. This was their third case together. After an initially rocky start, he had developed a fondness for the chubby detective, and had to admit they did work well together.
"How did he get the blood out of her?" Lee asked. "I don't see any sign of trauma."
"There was a small puncture wound in her right arm."
Excerpted from SILENT KILLS by C.E. LAWRENCE Copyright © 2011 by C. E. Lawrence. Excerpted by permission of PINNACLE BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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