Stone Kiss (Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus Series #14)by Faye Kellerman
One Dead. One Missing. One Man Who can't Look Away... In Los Angeles Lt. Peter Decker gets a frantic phone call from his family. A distant relative has been found naked and murdered in a seedy Manhattan hotel room and the man's niece, the last person who may have seen the victim alive, has disappeared. Crazed with worry, the girl's parents plead for Decker's help… See more details below
One Dead. One Missing. One Man Who can't Look Away... In Los Angeles Lt. Peter Decker gets a frantic phone call from his family. A distant relative has been found naked and murdered in a seedy Manhattan hotel room and the man's niece, the last person who may have seen the victim alive, has disappeared. Crazed with worry, the girl's parents plead for Decker's help and soon he's racing across the continent to a city he hasn't seen in ten years. With few leads and less time, he plunges into New York's underbelly, a world where vile deeds, unregenerate evil, and sinister secrets pit brother against brother. And where Decker will question the very essence of his faith and fight for everything and everyone he holds dear-including his wife, Rina.
Read an Excerpt
It was the stunned, pale look of bad news. Decker immediately thought of his parents, both in their mid-eighties, and though their health wasn't failing, they had had some problems over the past year. Right away, Rina had the good sense to tell him that the family was fine.
Decker was holding his daughter's hand. Looking down at the little girl, he said, "Hannah Rosie, let me fix you up with some videos and a snack. I think Eema needs to talk to me."
"It's okay, Daddy. I can do it myself. Eema taught me how to use the microwave."
"Nine years old and ready for college." "No, Daddy, but I can use a VCR and a microwave." She turned to her mother. "I got an A on a spelling test. I didn't even study." "That's wonderful. Not that you didn't study, but that you got an A." Rina kissed her daughter's cheek. "I'll be with you in a minute." "Whatever..." Hannah left, rolling her wheeled backpack into the kitchen.
"You should sit." Decker regarded his wife. "You're colorless." "I'm all right." But she sank down into the couch, hugging a blue-and- white-checked throw pillow like a life preserver. Her cerulean eyes skittered around the living room, first landing on the lamp, then bouncing off Decker's special leather chair, onto the white wicker rocker. Anywhere but on his face.
"My parents are fine?" he asked specifically. "Perfect," Rina reiterated. "Jonathan called" "Oh God! His mother?" "No, she's fine."
Jonathan's mother was Frieda Levine. She was also Decker's biological mother, making Jon his half brother. Ten years ago, by accident rather than by design, Decker had met up with his maternal family, which included five half siblings. Ties had been forged: more than mere acknowledgments, but less than time-tested relationships. Decker still considered his only parents to be the two people who had adopted him in infancy. "Then what's going on?"
They both heard the microwave beep. A moment later, Hannah came out, juggling a pizza bagel on a plate, a big glass of milk, and her backpack. Decker said, "Let me help you with that, sweetie."
Wordlessly, she handed her father the food and her schoolbag, skipping off to her bedroom, orange ringlets flying behind her. Like the faithful valet, Decker followed several steps behind. Rina got up, went into the kitchen, and started a pot of coffee. Nervously, she pulled off her head covering and unclipped the barrette holding a ponytail, shaking out a shoulder-length sheet of iridescent black hair. Then she tied it up again, but left the head covering off. She picked imaginary dirt off her jeans skirt, then moved on to the imaginary lint on her pink sweater. She gnawed the edge of her thumb, but that only made the hangnail worse.
Decker came back in, sat down at their cherry breakfast tablea bit scarred but still rock solid. When he carved it, he had used the best-quality wood he could find, and it showed. He took off his blue suit jacket and draped it over the back of his chair. He loosened his tie, then ran a hand through rust-colored hair heavily streaked with white. "What's with the Levines?"
"It's not the Levines, Peter; it's Jonathan's in-laws, the Liebers Raisie's family. There's been a terrible incident. His brother-in-law Ephraim was found dead" "Oh no!"
"Murdered, Peter. They found him in some seedy hotel room in upper Manhattan. To add to the confusion, he was with his fifteen- year-old niecehis brother's daughter. Now, she's missing. The family's in shambles." "When did all this happen?"
"I just hung up with Jonathan about five minutes before you came home. I think they found the body around three hours ago." Decker looked at his watch. "Around 4 P.M. New York time?" "I guess."
"What was this guy doing in a 'seedy hotel room' with his fifteenyear- old niece in the middle of a school afternoon?"
A rhetorical question. Rina didn't answer. Instead, she gave Decker a slip of paper with Jonathan's phone number.
"It's horrible." Decker fingered the paper. "I feel terrible for them. But this call... Is it just a comfort call? I mean, Jon doesn't expect me to do anything, does he?"
"I don't know, Peter. I suppose he'd like you to work miracles. In lieu of that, maybe you should call him up and listen to what happened."
"He can't expect me to go out there." "I don't know. Maybe. You have a pretty good track record."
"A prisoner of my own success. I have a job, Rina. As much as my heart goes out to themit truly is horribleI can't leave at a moment's notice and run off to Boro Park."
"Actually, Chaim Lieber and his family live in Quinton, which is upstate. His widowed father lives there as well. Jonathan's wife, Raisie, is Chaim's younger sister. It's Chaim's daughter who's missing." "In upstate?" Decker thought a moment. "Is the family religious?" "Yes. Quinton is a very religious enclave. The family's black hat, superreligious except for Raisie. She's Conservative like Jonathan." "The outcast," Decker said.
"She and Jonathan were lucky to find each other." Rina got up and poured two cups of coffee. "They both came from the same background and have altered their lifestyles for similar reasons." "And her father lives in Quinton. By himself?" "I believe so. Raisie's mother died around ten years ago. Don't you remember their talking about her memory at Jonathan's wedding?"
"No, but I wasn't paying close attention." Decker stared at the number. "Why don't you tend to Hannah while I do this?" "Don't want me hanging over your shoulder?" He stood up. "I don't know what I want." He gave Rina a kiss on the forehead. "I know what I don't want. I don't want to make this phone call."
Rina took his hand and squeezed it. "Why don't you talk from the bedroom? That way I can get dinner started." "Fine. I'm starved. What are we having?" "Lamb chops or salmon?" "I get a choice?"
"Both are fresh. Whatever you don't want, I'll freeze." "Hannah hates fish."
"She hates lamb chops, too. I have some leftover schnitzel for her." "Lamb chops, then." Decker made a face, then went inside the bedroom and closed the door. He kicked off his shoes and stretched out on his California king bed, dialing the number. It wasn't Jonathan's home phone in Manhattan, so Decker figured that it must be either his cell or possibly his synagogue, located near Columbia University. His half brother was a Conservative-pulpit rabbi. On the sixth ring, he answered.
"Jon!" Decker said. "Akiva!" A loud whoosh of air. "Thank you so much for calling!" "My God, Rina just told me. That's terrible! You must be going through hell!"
"Not as bad as my wife's family. At this point, we're all shellshocked." "I'm sure you are. When did this happen?" "About three hours ago. About four o'clock here." "Jeez. And what do the police say?" "Not much of anything. That's the problem. What does that mean?" "It means they probably don't know much." "Or aren't telling us anything." "That could be. I'm so sorry."
There was silence over the line. Jonathan said, "You didn't ask how it happened."
"If you want to tell me the details, I'm here." "I don't want to burden you...."
But that's exactly what he was going to do. "Tell me what's going on, Jon. Start at the beginning. Tell me about the family." "Oh my." A sigh. "Raisie comes from a family of five-two boys, three girls. Both of her brothers are older. Chaim is the eldest, then Ephraim, the one who was... murdered. Raisie's the oldest daughter. Chaim Joseph is a typical oldest son... reliable, responsible. He and his wife, Minda, have seven children. He's a good man who has always worked hard in the family business."
"Which is?" "Several retail electronic stores in Brooklyn... one on the Lower East Side. You know, TVs, stereos, cameras, computers, mobile phones, DVDs, etcetera. The second brother, Ephraim Boruch... the one who this happened to... he's had some problems in the past."
"What kind of problems?" "Relationship problemsmarried and divorced." "Kids?" "None." Silence. "And?" Decker prompted.
"Drug problems," Jonathan admitted. "Addiction and rehab." "That probably had a lot to do with his relationship problems." "No doubt. Ephraim has been divorced for ten years. His ex is out of the picture. She remarried and now lives in Israel. As for Ephraim, he's straightened himself out. He's been sober for the last two years. About that time, he also joined the family business with his older brother."
"How's that working out?" "Fine, as far as I know. He was always the favorite uncle of all the nieces and nephews. He especially got along well with his niece Shaynda, who is the oldest in Chaim's family." "The missing niece."
"Yes, the missing niece. Shaynda, like Ephraim, has a rebellious streak. She has been typecast as the problem child in the family since grade school. She's a beautiful girl, Akiva, with incredible spirit, and maybe that's part of the problem. She has not walked the walk or talked the talk." "Specifically?"
"Skipping school, hanging out at the mall with public-school kids. A couple of times, she had sneaked out of the house at night. My brother and sister-in-law came down on her with an iron fist. Unfortunately, the tougher they got, the more Shayndie fought. She and the mother have a miserable relationship. But the shining light had been Uncle Ephraim. He and Shayndie seemed to have had this rapport. More and more, she began to confide in him. They began spending time together"
"Hmm..." "I know what you're thinking. I would have sworn up and down that it wasn't that at all." "Wasn't what?"
"That he wasn't molesting her. When they first started spending time, I thought it was odd-the amount of time they spent together. So did Raisie. We had a long talk with Shaynda because we figured no one else would. We asked her point-blank. When she said no she seemed genuinely shockedwe gave a step by step of what to be aware of. After the conversation, both Raisie and I were satisfied that Ephraim really had the girl's interest at heart. We had no reason to suspect that Ephraim was anything more than just a loving uncle trying to reach out to his troubled niece."
"But now you think differently." A long sigh. "Maybe. The two of them were supposed to be going on an outing this morning... to the Met. To see the new Dutch/ Vermeer exhibit."
"This morning?" Decker paused. "It's Thursday. She doesn't have school?"
"I don't know, Akiva. Maybe her mother gave her the day off. Maybe her allergies were acting up. I didn't think it appropriate to question my sister-in-law." "Of course. Go on."
Jonathan stuttered a few times, trying to get the words out. "Ephraim was found dead in a hotel room. Did Rina tell you that?"
"Yes." "He'd been shot, Akiva. He was also... naked." "Good Lord!" "I know. It's awful!" "Any sign of the girl? Clothes left behind? Personal effects... like a purse, maybe?" "Nothing that I've heard."
"Any sign of a struggle? Torn sheets? Things in disarray?" Decker licked his lips. "Blood other than from..." He wanted to say the kill spot. "Blood other than where Ephraim was shot?" "I wouldn't know. The police aren't saying much. They claim that they're just gathering information at this point, but we all know what they're thinking."
Defensiveness in his voice, but it was seasoned with anguish. Decker said, "And what are the police thinking?" "That somehow we're guilty. Of course, they have to ask the family lots of questions. But they've made all of us feel more like criminals than like victims. Believe me, Akiva, I didn't want to call you. I know it's unfair of me to call you. But no one here is able to handle this. Is there anythinganything at allthat you can say to advise us?" Decker's head was awhirl.
Jonathan added in a gush of words, "And if it's not too difficult, perhaps you could make a couple of calls? As one detective to another."
The words hung in the air. Jonathan said, "I shouldn't be asking you this" "It's all right, Jon. I just have to think for a moment." "Take all the time..." Decker closed his eyes and felt a headache coming on. "Can I call you back in a few minutes?" "Of course"
Decker clicked off the line before his brother could add another obligation. He went to the bathroom, took two Advils, then treated himself to a needle-hot shower. Ten minutes later, he slipped on soft worn denims and a work shirt. With trepidation, he punched the phone's redial button.
"Hello?" "Okay, Jon, listen up. First thing you need to do is hire a lawyer." "Hire a lawyer?" Surprise in his voice. "Why?" "Because you don't like the way the police are questioning you. You need protection." "But won't that make us look bad?"
"It will raise a couple of eyebrows, sure. But weighing the pros and the cons, it's no debate. Go out and find the best criminal defense attorney in town, and see if you can get an appointment with him ASAP. See if he'll take you on if things get... complicated. You've got to entertain the real possibility that someone in your family knows more about this than he or she is letting on."
"I can't accept that." "Fine. Don't accept that. Just listen to me, okay? And don't talk to the police without an attorney present. Just as a precaution." No response.
Decker tried to hide his irritation. "Are you there?" "Yes, I'm here. Sorry. I'm writing this down. Go on." Decker slowed it down. "Jon, I don't mean to snap at you. I'm used to barking orders."
"It's fine, Akiva. Believe me, it's wonderful to talk to you... to someone who knows what he's doing." "That remains to be seen. After you've talked to a lawyer, have him call me. I'll talk to him directly."
"That's it?" "For the time being." "What about the police, Akiva?" "Let me talk to the lawyer first. New York law is different than L.A. law, and it would help all of you if I didn't act precipitously." There was a long silence. Decker knew what was coming. Jonathan said, "I know this is dreadfully wrong to ask, Akiva. But it would really help us out if you could maybe..." "Come out for the weekend?" Decker completed the sentence. "I'll understand if you say no." Decker said, "Let me call you back in five, all right?" "Akiva, thank you so much"
"Wait until you get my answer before you thank me." Decker hung up. Rina was standing at the doorway. "You've been listening?" "Just for a minute. I think you gave him good adviceabout the lawyer."
"I'm glad you approve. He wants me to come out there. What do you think?"
"I can't make that decision for you, Peter." "I know that. But I still want to know what you think." "How do you feel about flying?" Decker shrugged. "It's a big hassle now, but I'm not nervous if that's what you're asking."
"If you don't go," Rina said, "you'll feel guilty." He cursed under his breath, soft enough that it wasn't offensive, but loud enough so Rina could hear. "It isn't fair to get me involved." "No, it isn't."
"It's a family member. If I uncover muck or deliver bad news, I'm going to get blamed." "Probably."
"Definitely." Decker smoothed his mustache, chewing on the ends. It was the one part of his body where his hair was still predominantly red as opposed to gray. "On the other hand, it's not just a murder. There's a missing girl." Decker filled in some of the blanks to the story, watching his wife grow paler by the moment. "The girl might have been a hidden witness to the murder. Or maybe she escaped before the whole thing happened. That would be the most favorable outcome."
No one spoke. Decker rubbed his forehead. "Dinner's ready," Rina said softly. "Can you eat?" "Not a problem. What do I tell Jonathan?" "It's up to you, sweetheart." She sat down next to him. "I love you." "Love you, too." He looked at the ceiling. "I suppose I could hunt around for a few days. By then maybe she'll turn up... one way or the other." He faced his wife and kissed her cheek. "How many miles do we have?"
"Actually, I have enough for you to fly free. Interestingly enough, I also have a companion ticket for Hannah and me if we do a Saturday-night stayover." She patted his hand. "And we do have two sons back East"
"Just hold on!" Decker interrupted. "My flying is one thing. You and Hannah are quite another thing." "I haven't seen the boys in a while," Rina told him. "I'd much rather fly with you than by myself." She patted his cheek. "You're a tough guy."
"Real tough." It had been a while since they had seen the boys. "You'd like to come with me?" "Yes, I would love to come with you." Decker thought a moment. "I have a condition. Promise me you won't get involved."
"Good heavens, why would I do that! I wouldn't dare take any chances as long as Hannah's with me." She gave him a swat on his backside. "Go call back Jonathan. I'll make the reservations on the other line."
With great reluctance, Decker called back his half brother. After working out a few more details, he walked into the kitchen, where Rina had just hung up on the land phone. "Jonathan wants to know when we think we'll be arriving." "I've booked us on the red-eye."
"When?" "Tonight" "Tonight?"
"It's Thursday, Peter. If we don't take the red-eye, we won't be able to leave until Saturday night, because I won't fly on Friday in case of delays. Too close to Shabbos. Besides, I figured you'd want maximum time out there."
"Well, then, I'm going to have to start making phone calls." Rina could overhear Jonathan telling him to forget it if it was too hard. Decker interrupted him. "We'll be there around six in the morning."
"Give me the flight number," Jonathan said. "I'll be there. Even though it's been eight years, you won't have any trouble recognizing me. I'll be the one with the sheepish look on my face."
Decker pushed his seat tray up in the locked position. "Why do I have to use up my vacation time doing this?" "Because you're a caring person?" Rina tried out. "No, it's because I'm an idiot," he snarled as he moved about in his seat, trying to get his long legs comfortable. Flying under the best of circumstances was now an ordeal. And this certainly wasn't the best of circumstances. "I despise molestation cases"
"Can you keep your voice down?" Decker glanced around. People were staring at him. Rina whispered, "You don't know it's that." "Yes, I do know. The uncle was a sleazeball" "Peter, please!" Rina pointed to Hannah.
"She's sleeping." "She still hears things." "I'm resentful." "I know that. I am, too." Decker looked at her. "You are?"
"Yes, I am. People take advantage of me because I'm such a softy. I'd like to say no, but then I'd feel bad about it. What can I do? It's the way I am. I was born with a 'sucker' gene." "You and me both, darling." Decker made a face. "We'll give it a few days. In the meantime, we'll see the boys. That's not so bad." "No, that's the good part. Sammy's no problem because he's in the city. Yonkie has a bit more arranging to do, but he swears he'll be with us for the weekend."
"You're excited." "Of course. So are their grandparents. They're beside themselves with joy."
Rina's late husband's parents. Not his family. What the heck? They were nice people who had endured a horrible loss. "At least I'm making someone happy."
Rina patted his hand. "Being with you, Peter. That's the good part, too." "You have this way of dissipating my anger." "Then why do you look so sour?"
"But sometimes I like being angry. You're robbing me of one of my few pleasures."
"Don't worry," Rina told him. "After dealing with New York City traffic, Jonathan's family, my family, and Jews in general, I'm sure you'll have plenty to be angry about."
Copyright © 2002 by Faye Kellerman
Meet the Author
FAYE KELLERMAN is the author of the bestselling Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus novels, as well as a thriller, Moon Music, and a historical novel, The Quality of Mercy. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Jonathan Kellerman, and their children.
- Beverly Hills, California
- Date of Birth:
- July 31, 1952
- Place of Birth:
- St. Louis, Missouri
- B.A. in Mathematics, 1974; D.D.A., 1978
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >