In this New York Times bestseller with over 1M copies sold, a Muslim detective struggling with sobriety and the violence of his job on the Indianapolis force must solve the murder of his teenage niece.
Ash Rashid is a former homicide detective who can't stand the thought of handling another death investigation. In another year, he'll be out of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department completely.
That's the plan, at least, until his niece's body is found in the guest home of one of his city's most wealthy citizens. The coroner calls it an overdose, but the case doesn't add up. Against orders, Ash launches an investigation to find his niece's murderer, but the longer he searches, the more entangled he becomes in a case that hits increasingly close to home.
If he doesn't solve it fast, his niece won't be the only family member he has to bury.
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By Chris Culver
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2013 Chris Culver
All rights reserved.
I hated doing next-of-kin notifications. Most people guessed why I was there as soon as they opened the door. They put on airs of fortitude and strength, but almost all fell apart in front of me at some point. I could see it in their eyes. They looked at me and knew something, too. I'd go home afterward as if nothing was wrong. I might hug my family a little tighter than usual, but the world would go on for me without much of a hiccup. Most hated me for what I had to do, and I couldn't blame them. My Islamic faith told me that drinking to escape their stares was an abomination in the eyes of God, but I didn't care as long as it helped me sleep without dreams.
I pulled my department-issued Ford Crown Victoria to a stop beside the mailbox in front of my sister's house and took a deep breath, stilling myself as a familiar anxiety flooded over me. I knew as soon as I had volunteered for the duty that I was going to have one of those nights I'd need to forget, but it took that moment for it to become real. It tore at my gut like barbed wire.
My sister and her husband lived in a four-thousand-square-foot historic home that could have comfortably housed my entire extended family. As a resident of the poorer, smaller neighborhood next door, I was glad that it didn't. My brother-in-law Nassir smiled and put his hand on my shoulder when he saw me at the front door but stiffened when I didn't return the gesture.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"We'll talk in a moment," I said. "Where's Rana?"
"In the kitchen," said Nassir, leaving his hand on my shoulder a moment longer. "Come in."
I walked in, and Nassir shut the door behind me. The house's first floor was typical of well-kept historic homes. The woodwork was straight and clean with a rich patina that could only come from eighty years of polishing, and the rooms were open and bright. Nassir half led and half pushed me down the home's main hallway to the kitchen in back. Rana was in front of a gas stove large enough to have been at home in the kitchen of a Las Vegas strip hotel. The air smelled like garlic and yeast.
"Ash," she said, smiling at me. "I thought you and Hannah were going out tonight."
"We were," I said. "I need you both to sit at the table. We need to talk."
Nassir and Rana did as I asked. In return, I broke their hearts as gently as I could.
Nassir and Rana had taken the news about as well as anyone could expect. They hadn't cried in front of me, but they told me they wanted to be alone. If I went home, though, I'd have to tell my wife why I canceled our wedding anniversary plans. I didn't think I had the strength or stomach for that yet. Instead, I drove to my office. It wasn't my case, but I had enough friends in my department that I had a stack of eight-by-ten photos and notes on my desk when I arrived. They made my stomach turn.
I read through the timeline quickly. The call had come in at six in the evening. The caller reported the presence of a prone female, approximately sixteen to eighteen years old, in the guest home of one of Indianapolis's most wealthy citizens. The first officer on the scene checked her pulse but found nothing. He called in a probable homicide, and that's when the gears started moving. Within half an hour, five forensic technicians had arrived to process the scene, and Detective Olivia Rhodes had begun interviewing potential witnesses.
A detective had numbered and described each photograph, giving me a guide as I flipped through the stack. The first few pictures documented the layout of the building, orienting the crime scene inside the larger structure. The photographer had snapped pictures of a kitchen with light maple cabinetry and a living room with a television, lounge chairs, and pool table. A vase of calla lilies rested on the counter beside the stove. They were my niece's favorite flower; my wife and I always sent them to her on her birthday.
Rachel, my niece, lay in the center of the room. Her skin had paled, indicating that her blood had already begun to settle inside her body, and her arms were pressed against her sides like a supine soldier at attention. I stared at the picture for a moment, my stomach twisting. She didn't deserve that.
I skimmed through the next few pictures. The photographer had snapped more shots of the kitchen and living room. They were helpful for orienting someone in a crime scene but weren't particularly interesting to me. I stopped when the photographs started focusing on my niece. The photographer had started with wider shots of her placement and then continued by capturing her closely from her head to her feet. She had no obvious external injuries, nor could I see puddles of blood around her. That was comforting. Unfortunately, I knew without even reading the crime scene report that someone had staged her body.
I turned through the stack of photos until I found one focusing on Rachel's neck. She wore a light-blue polo shirt with an open collar. I couldn't see ligature marks on her neck, but the bottom button on her collar had been popped off, leaving a pair of strings in its place. The detective in charge might not have thought much of it, but that wasn't like Rachel. She was as meticulous about her clothes as anyone I had ever met. She wouldn't have worn that shirt until she had a new button sewn back on.
I shifted in my seat and flipped through a few more pictures until I saw one focusing on her waist. Rachel wore a denim skirt with buttons instead of a zipper in front. The buttons were misaligned, though, so the skirt would have ridden uncomfortably against her abdomen. She wouldn't have done that to herself.
I continued turning over photographs until I saw one I couldn't explain. It looked like a shot of the carpet. Puzzled, I scanned through the notes that accompanied the photographs until I found the appropriate one. The photographer had tried to capture track marks. I looked at the picture again, straining my eyes until I saw two long strips where the carpet's matte was flattened in one direction. I couldn't be sure, but it looked as if someone had pulled Rachel into the room by her arms, with her feet dragging behind her.
Bile rose in the back of my throat.
I stared at that picture, thankful I hadn't seen it before going to my sister's house. Since I had come right from home, I hadn't been able to tell her much about her daughter's death. That was probably good.
The rest of the pictures focused on something odd—a glass vial full of a brownish red liquid. The technician's notes said someone had found it on an end table in one of the bedrooms. It was roughly the size of a cigar, and when the technician picked it up to catalog it, the liquid inside coated the glass like cough syrup. The note for that photograph said the technician had found pink lipstick on the rim that presumptively matched Rachel's.
What were you into, honey?
My desk phone rang, startling me. I glanced at my watch. It was after ten, well past my regular hours, so I doubted it was a casual phone call. I picked it up.
"Rashid," I said. "What can I do for you?"
"Yeah, Detective Rashid. This is Sergeant Hensley at IMPD downtown. Olivia Rhodes brought in somebody in your niece's case, and I thought I'd give you a heads-up."
I nodded. Hensley was an old-school watch sergeant and had been on the force before we had civilian oversight committees or cameras in every room. When he was my age, interrogations had included rubber hoses and phone books. I envied him. Justice may not have been pretty, but shit got done.
"Suspect or witness?" I asked.
Hensley chuckled. "Fuck if I know," he said. "They don't tell me anything. If you want, I could do some poking around."
I almost snickered. Hensley had more friends and sources in our department than anyone else alive. He probably knew exactly who Olivia brought in and why, probably before she even entered the building. He wanted a handout.
"Don't bother," I said. "When'd she bring him in?"
"Just walked by my desk."
If they had just walked by the front desk, I had at least twenty minutes to get over to IMPD. While I was still officially a detective, I was on a permanent investigative assignment with the prosecutor's office, so I shared office space with the prosecutors about a block from the department's downtown bullpen. In another year, I'd hopefully finish law school and be done with the department completely. I still loved the work, but I could see only so many bodies before I became as broken as the victims I investigated.
"Appreciate the call, Sergeant," I said. "I'll be over in a few."
I hung up before Hensley could respond and grabbed my tweed jacket. My shoulder ached dully when I twisted my arm inside. I was thirty-four and generally too young to have arthritis, but I had been shot with a hunting rifle four years earlier while serving a high-risk felony warrant. I got off lucky; my partner had been shot in the neck and bled out before paramedics could stabilize him.
The concrete outside my building radiated pent-up heat from earlier that day. My throat felt dry and scratchy. I could see one of my favorite bars up the street, and for a brief moment I considered stopping. I decided against it, though. The station wasn't far, and I could probably find someone inside willing to give me a pick-me-up if I needed it.
I reached the building quickly. The city had built IMPD's headquarters in the early sixties and, judging by the musty odor that pervaded the building, the contractor they hired hadn't bothered to waterproof the foundation or basement. A middle-aged couple clung to each other in the white marble-clad lobby. Their clothes looked expensive, and I could see worry in their eyes. If I had to guess, I'd say they were picking up their delinquent kid for his first DUI. That happened a lot. I'd see them again.
I walked to the front desk. Sergeant Hensley sat behind it, reading Sports Illustrated. He dropped his magazine and looked at me with green, knowing eyes.
"You look like shit, Rashid."
"Feel like it, too," I said, reaching over the counter for the sign-in sheet. I scribbled my name and rank. Detective Sergeant Ashraf Rashid. I had been named after my father, although I hadn't ever met him. He had been a history professor at the American University in Cairo, but one of his students shot and killed him before I was born. Apparently that kid's family took grades seriously. The remnants of my family immigrated to the U.S. shortly after that.
I pushed the sign-in sheet toward Hensley and pulled out my wallet. I took out two twenties and put them on top of the counter.
"I think I missed your kid's last birthday. Buy him a football for me."
Hensley slipped the money into his pocket and smiled. "I'm sure he'll appreciate this," he said. "Detective Rhodes is in interrogation room three with Robert Cutting."
If Hensley thought that earned him another payoff, he was wrong. I thanked him and headed toward the elevators to the left of the desk.
The Homicide bullpen hadn't changed much since I had left it. Unlike most regular office buildings, IMPD didn't have individual offices. At least not for peons like me. It had desks in open rooms. The administration justified the arrangement by arguing that separate offices would impede communication on sensitive investigations. In actuality, I'm pretty sure they were just too cheap to spring for the extra materials when they last renovated the building.
I weaved my way through desks and columns of file folders. The interrogation rooms were designed to be oppressive and to give a suspect the feeling that there was no escape. They were cramped, they had no windows, and the airflow inside was carefully regulated depending on the interrogator's mood. If a suspect looked around before going in, he'd see a well-labeled express elevator that went directly to the holding cells on the top four floors of the building.
When I came to interrogation room three, the door was shut, but Detective Olivia Rhodes stood outside, cup of coffee in hand. She nodded at me when I drew close. Olivia was a good detective. I had been in Homicide for six years before being transferred to the prosecutor's office, and I spent one of those years as her partner. From what I had heard earlier, she fought to be assigned to my niece's case. I appreciated that and respected her even more for it.
"I thought you might be up," she said, turning down the hallway. She opened an unmarked door beside the interrogation room and held it for me. "Come on."
Police interrogations have come a long way in the twelve years I'd been on the force. Our station no longer had the infamous one-way mirror looking into the interrogation room. Instead, we had a sophisticated set of hidden video cameras and microphones placed around the room. Everything was recorded from the moment a suspect walked inside to the moment he walked out. I had heard those recordings could disappear if the right person got the right incentive, but I had never taken advantage of that. I liked having the option if I needed it, though.
Olivia turned on a flat-screen monitor attached to the wall. The picture showed a kid in jeans and a blue T-shirt. He had curly brown hair and one of his arms was handcuffed to the wall, keeping him upright. He stared at the steel table in front of him, apparently unaware that he was being filmed.
"Is this Robert Cutting?" I asked.
"He goes by Robbie," she said. "He's your niece's boyfriend. Was your niece's boyfriend, at least. I appreciate you doing the next-of-kin notification."
"That's no problem," I said. "The kid have a lawyer yet?"
"Meyers," she said. That figured. John Meyers was one of the best defense attorneys in town. "He's on his way in."
"Did the kid ask for him?"
Olivia shrugged. "Sort of. Nathan Cutting called him, and Robbie agreed to use him. I think we can nail this kid, so I'm not going to push and try to talk to him before Meyers comes in."
"What do you think you have?" I asked.
"You seen the crime scene photos?" she asked.
"Upper-class victim without signs of trauma or injury," she said, slipping her hands through her blond hair and securing it in a ponytail. "I think she overdosed and Robbie tried to cover it up."
I shook my head. "Rachel wasn't on drugs," I said.
"You sure about that?" asked Olivia.
"Yeah. She's got a scholarship to play tennis at Purdue University next year, and her high school tests randomly to make sure the kids aren't doping. My sister would have said something if Rachel wasn't clean."
Olivia bit her lower lip. "We'll see how things go, then," she said. "You hang around here. I'm going to wait downstairs for Meyers to show up and get this started."
Olivia left shortly after that. I sat and waited, staring at the monitor. Robbie looked thin and awkward. Appearances could be deceiving, but I doubted he was Islamic. That wouldn't sit too well with Rana and Nassir, which might have been part of his appeal to my niece.
I leaned back in my chair, wishing I had thought to grab a cup of coffee on my way in.
Approximately five minutes after leaving the observation booth, Olivia entered the interrogation room with John Meyers in tow. Meyers looked to be in his fifties. He wore a lustrous blue suit and carried a soft leather bag over one shoulder. He sat at the table in the interrogation room beside his client while Olivia sat across from him with a file folder in front of her. The microphones inside were sensitive enough that I could hear the clatter of the metal buckles on Meyers's bag strike the steel table.
"Okay, so why don't we get this started," said Olivia. "For the record, it's eleven in the evening on August nineteenth, and this is Detective Olivia Rhodes interviewing Robbie Cutting. Sitting in on this interview is Mr. Cutting's lawyer, John Meyers. Is that correct?"
Robbie mumbled, "Yes," but he didn't meet Olivia's gaze. I took a closer look at him then. He had bags under his eyes, and he swayed as if he were being buffeted by wind. He looked lost.
"Good," said Olivia. "Right now, this is an information-gathering interview. I'm trying to figure out what happened. You're not under arrest, but I can use what you tell me here in court. Just to be clear, you don't have to say anything, and you're free to leave at any time. Do you understand these rights, Mr. Cutting?"
Robbie looked up, hope in his eyes. "Does that mean I can go?"
Excerpted from The Abbey by Chris Culver. Copyright © 2013 Chris Culver. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
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