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Echoes in Death, Page 2

J. D. Robb

  As trophy wives went, Eve supposed Daphne fit the bill. Young, beautiful when her face hadn’t been pummeled. Probably an excellent hostess with the event-planning bent.

  Eve wondered, though she was Roarke’s first and only spouse, if some considered her a trophy.

  She glanced at him as he maneuvered into a street slot outside the double redbrick townhouse where the Strazzas lived.

  “You didn’t get a shiny prize.”

  “I’m fond of shiny prizes,” he said. “Why didn’t I get one?”

  “Your own fault. As trophies go, I’d be in the dull-and-dented category.”

  “Not in the least. But then again, you’re no trophy.”

  She got out, navigating from curb to sidewalk in the stupid fancy-girl shoes. “That’s a compliment?”

  “It’s truth. If I’d wanted a trophy, I’d have one, wouldn’t I?” He took her hand, rubbed his thumb over her wedding ring. “I much prefer my cop. You’re thinking of Daphne Strazza, and the generational difference in age with her husband.”

  “How do you know? You haven’t had time to do a run.”

  “Simple enough, as Strazza’s a surgeon of some repute—and the name rings a dim bell. He’s bound to be twenty years or so older than she.”

  “Twenty-six. Second wife. First, close to his age, divorced after about a dozen years. Lives in Australia, on a sheep ranch, which is a pretty far ways from New York and dinner parties in town mansions on the Upper East.”

  She gave the house a study. Three stories of old elegance, New York style. Strazza had merged two townhomes into one, widening one entrance to highlight the main with carved double doors. Tall, slim windows, privacy screened for the night, stood like blank eyes in their frames of dark wood. A pair of glass doors on the second floor led to a kind of Juliet balcony with a stylized S centered in the rail.

  The same ironwork flanked the three steps leading from sidewalk to entrance.

  And there, Eve noted, he had top-of-the-line security.

  “Cam, palm plate, intercom, double swipe,” she said as they approached. “He paid for the dignified look, but he’s got a pair of high-end police locks on here. Audio, visual, and motion alarms.”

  “Back in the day, this is just the sort of house in just the sort of neighborhood I’d have targeted.” The thought of those days as a master thief brought a nostalgic smile to his lips. “It’s quiet, settled, and inside? That’s where all the goodies are. Art, jewelry, cash as well.”

  “If we were back in the day, how long would it take you to compromise the security?”

  His hair blowing in the wind, Roarke angled his head to study the locks. “With proper due diligence and preparation? Two or three, I’d say. Likely closer to two.”


  “Of course.”

  He wasn’t bragging, she mused. Just stating a fact.

  Eve rang the bell. She expected an automated comp response, but got nothing at all.

  She rang again. “I’d call that a security lapse. No warning, no response from the system, no attempt to scan.”

  As they waited, Roarke took out his PPC, ran some sort of scan of his own. “The system’s down,” he told Eve. “Deactivated, and the door, Lieutenant, is unlocked.”

  “Shit.” She took her weapon and badge out of her bag, tossed the bag on the stoop, clipped the badge to her coat. And wasn’t surprised, as she also clipped a recorder to her coat, when Roarke took a clutch piece out of an ankle holster.

  “Hold it. Record on. Dallas, Lieutenant Eve, and expert civilian consultant Roarke entering unsecured residence of Anthony Strazza. Two attempts at contact elicited no response. There is reason to believe Strazza is injured or under duress. I have armed the civilian.”

  She shoved open the door, went in low. Roarke went in high.

  She swept the foyer. Overhead a silver-and-white free-form chandelier dripped dim light, and illuminated drops and smears of blood on the white marble floors.

  “We’ve got blood—and footprints through it. Bare feet—probably Daphne Strazza’s.”

  She gestured him one way, went the other, each calling out “Clear!” when they’d swept a room.

  She didn’t need Roarke to tell her someone had walked off with some trinkets. She spotted a couple of empty wall niches—and the dinner-party debris no house droids had dealt with.

  They rounded back, started up to the second floor, once again separated.

  She caught the scent as she walked toward the room in line with the balcony, the one with double white doors open.

  Blood and death … and flowers.

  She found all three in the spacious suite with its wide bed flanked with high posts of burnished gold. Like the floor, drops and smears of blood marred the knotted white linens. A chair with gold finish lay with its back broken and trailing duct tape—bloodied and ragged. Trampled white lilies swam in a pool of blood or scattered bruised petals over the white-and-gold carpet.

  A large vase of deeply cut crystal had spilled its flowers and water over the carpet and lay smeared with blood and gray matter.

  More blood on the footboard, at the edge where board met post, and what looked like blurry handprints, red against the white of the carpet.

  Among the blood and gore, Anthony Strazza lay like a penitent at the altar, arms and legs outstretched. Still fully dressed, he wore a dark gray suit with a paler gray shirt. Cuff links winked at his wrists. His face, barely recognizable, showed red and purple from a beating in the slice of profile Eve could see.

  Blood, gore matted his dark blond hair where it had seeped and run from the gaping wounds in the back of his skull.

  “I’ve got a body!” Eve called out.

  Roarke joined her, standing in the doorway with her.

  “No one does this to steal—and then not take so much that’s easily transported.”

  “Maybe it got out of hand,” Eve said. “We still have to clear the third floor.”

  “Why don’t you do that, as we both know whoever did this is long gone. I’ll go out and get your field kit.”

  Long gone, Eve agreed, but procedure was procedure for a reason. She cleared the top floor, Strazza’s office suite, a bathroom, a kind of media room in the contemporary and manly style, a shiny automatic kitchen, a full bar, a secondary workstation …

  And an open safe built into a small cabinet.

  She went down as Roarke came up.

  “Nearly empty safe on three. At a quick glance it didn’t look compromised. I lean toward the assailant beating the code out of Strazza, but you could check it out.”

  She looked down at her shoes—needle-thin heels attached to her feet by a bunch of glittery straps. Resigned, she took them off, sealed her bare feet, her hands, handed him the can of Seal-It. “Haven’t cleared the closets or the master bath. Why don’t you seal up and do that? I need to officially ID the vic, call it in.”

  “You’ll be getting Peabody up early, I take it.”

  “It’s never early when you’re a cop. I need real clothes, damn it.”

  “I’ll take care of that.”

  “How?” she demanded when he put the can back in her kit.

  “By getting Summerset up early.”

  She thought of Roarke’s majordomo, the pain in her ass. “But—”

  Amused at her expected reaction, Roarke skimmed a finger over her bare shoulder before he went into the bedroom. “Your choice whether to do what you do more comfortably or in formal wear.”

  “Damn it. Clothes. And boots. And my regular coat. And—”

  “He knows what to send along. Another safe in the closet—his closet—open and empty.”

  Eve tossed her coat behind her, walked over the soiled carpet, crouched in a sheer dress of red and silver. The skirt consisted of dozens of thin, floaty panels that swirled like ribbons when she walked and exposed a long length of leg. Straps, as narrow and sparkly as those on the discarded shoes, crisscrossed over her bare back.

She pressed dead fingers to her Identi-pad.

  “Victim identity verified as Anthony Strazza of this address.” She took out a gauge. “TOD, zero-one-hundred-twenty-six. COD to be determined by ME, but by visual exam of primary, most likely the skull fracture.”

  “That would do it,” Roarke said from behind her. “No safe in the wife’s closet. I’d suggest the one in his is large enough to hold her jewelry and any he might have had. And I’ll take a look at the one upstairs.”

  “Check the security feed first, would you? He likely cleared it out or compromised it, but we could get lucky. And the doors and alarms.”

  “As an expert consultant, I’d have to say burglary wasn’t the point here, or not the primary one.”

  “No, just a really big bonus to top off rape and murder.” She started to reach for her ’link. “Damn it. My ’link’s in that shiny thing.”

  “No, it’s in your field kit, and the shiny thing’s now empty in the car.”

  “Oh, yeah, here it is. Thanks. Look, I’m going to tell Peabody to bring McNab, as this place is loaded with electronics. You could head home, catch some sleep.”

  When he just raised his eyebrows, she shrugged. “Or not.”

  “Or not. I can tell you the … intruder bashed the components in the security room. As I was clearing I didn’t look beyond that, or the droids—a trio of house droids, also smashed.”

  “He likes violence—animate or inanimate. Whatever you can get.”

  “I’ll see what I can do.”

  Alone, Eve looked down at the body, thought about just what one human could do to another.

  And called it in.


  With the crime scene and the body in situ on record, Eve rolled the victim.

  “Multiple facial injuries. From fist and some sort of sap, I’d say. Nicks and shallow cuts on the throat. Similar to those inflicted on the second victim. No sign Strazza was gagged during the assault. Bound to the chair, restrained at the wrist. Zip-tie restraints still on wrists.”

  She angled for a close zoom on the thin plastic.

  “Fought those. We’ve got deep lacerations and contusions at the wrists, what appear to be splinters from the chair both in the flesh and stuck—by blood and bits of adhesive—to the zip ties. Some tape still attached to the pant legs, the sleeves of the jacket. Vic’s knuckles are bruised, so he might’ve gotten a couple shots in.”

  She eased back a little, studied the shattered chair.

  “Broke the chair, broke out of the chair, went for the assailant. That’s how it reads. Assailant grabs the big-ass vase, bashes him—temple wound—frontal assault there. Puts him down. Then bam, wham, finishes him where he lays.

  “What does she do?” Eve wondered as she took samples of blood from several locations, labeled, sealed them. Still crouched, she studied the blood on the footboard.

  “Second vic has a head wound. Gash at back of the head. Does she try to help, get knocked back? Hits her head, passes out. Maybe. Wakes up, in shock, concussed, disoriented. Brain just shuts down so she walks out, goes downstairs, goes outside—naked.”

  Eve blew out a breath. At eight years of age, she’d been beaten and raped, and had walked in that dreamy fugue state away from the dead—covered in blood not all her own—out on the street.

  “The mind shuts down,” she murmured, “so it doesn’t go crazy.”

  She stood up, breathed in, shut her eyes—shut out those memories. She couldn’t allow them to color the now. Tried instead to see how it had been in the here, in the present.

  Dinner party’s over, time for bed. Did they walk up together, chatting about who’d said what? That sort of postgame commentary. They walk into the bedroom, surrounded by that illusion of safety, by that quiet fatigue of having a social event over and done.

  Was he waiting for them in here? Someone they knew? One of the party staff? Caterer, valet, server? Or someone who took advantage of the comings and goings, slipped in, strolled upstairs.

  Cased the house first—knew enough about the house first. Had to.

  Incapacitate the biggest threat—Strazza. One way or the other. Grab the woman, knife to the throat. Or knock him down and out. Take him out—smarter—smack the woman around a little. Maybe force her to bind the husband to the chair, zip the ties around the arms of the chair. Restrain her, too. On the bed, tie her to the posts.

  Frowning, Eve picked up the white dress from the floor, studied the lacy underwear.

  No, no, he didn’t rip or cut this off her. Made her strip, made her strip down. Made the husband watch. Wants that power, wants the husband to be helpless, enraged.

  She looked over as Roarke came back. “Does he get the codes for the safes first—get that out of the way? I won’t hurt her/you. I just want what you’ve got. She didn’t have the codes.”

  “You’re sure of that?”

  “The safes are both in his areas, not hers. She’s the trophy—and, however he felt about her, he was in charge. Nothing around here feels like her. He’s got the entire third-floor domain. She doesn’t even have a sitting room deal, an office. His house, his money—that’s impression, speculation. The perp knocked her around pretty good, but he knocked Strazza around more. I’m talking before the kill. He didn’t have to. Give me the codes or I’ll cut up her pretty face—or I’ll mess you up.”

  Messed him up anyway, Eve thought as she looked down at the body.

  “Most people finding themselves in that situation give the codes. They sure as hell give them after a couple of punches in the face or with a knife to their throat or the throat of a loved one. It’s things—insured things—in the safes.”

  Roarke nodded. “So you project the killer dealt with the practicalities first. Cleared out the safes, destroyed the droids and the security feed—we may get something back on that—then came back in, added some flourishes, raped the woman.”

  “Multiple times, the doc said. Maybe he rapes her straight off to show the husband he means business. Threatens to rape her again, kill her. He made her strip.”

  Eve gestured to the dress. “It’s got some blood, likely from where he hit her or cut her. But it’s not torn. He didn’t tear or cut it off her. Husband’s bound in the chair, and the killer stands behind him, knife to his throat. Take it off, all off, or I slit his throat. Then he ties her to the bed—no defensive wounds. You get raped, you’re probably going to fight, even a little, scratch. And she did, from the wounds on her wrists and ankles, she fought the restraints, at least at first.”

  She studied the bed, imagined the war.

  “After that, maybe he wanders around some, picking up a few more goodies—some things that catch his eye. Cocky bastard. Comes back, rapes her again, pounds on both of them again, rapes her again. Strazza manages to break the chair, lunges at him. Bruised knuckles—didn’t break the skin, but he got at least one or two shots in. She’s not restrained—she’s passed fighting the rapes—maybe she tries to help or just run. She gets knocked back, hits her head hard on the footboard, there at the corner. She’s out or plenty dazed. Killer grabs that vase, slaps it against Strazza’s head. He’s down, and plenty dazed. The killer finishes him.”

  He hadn’t noticed the blood on the footboard. There was so much blood spilled, smeared, spattered. He wondered if she knew the dark poetry of her skill in reading a murder scene.

  “But not her?” he commented. “Why not finish them both?”

  “That stands out. I would have—he should have, being a vicious fuck. Maybe it’s his first kill. The kill’s sloppy, and it’s of the moment.”

  She stood in the stunning dress, blood soiling the hems, gestured to the body.

  “I mean, Jesus, the guy attacked him.”

  “The gall of it,” Roarke added.

  “Exactly. He attacked. He deserved to die. But the woman? She’s nothing now that he’s done with her, so he leaves her. It’s going on forty minutes between TOD and when we found her. She spent part of that unconscious, part
of it walking around in shock. And the killer had plenty of time to pick up his toys and go home.”

  Eve stopped, hands on hips, studying the room. “That’s a basic read of the crime scene, the two vics. The order of things may be different, but I don’t think the murder was premeditated. Daphne Strazza wouldn’t be alive if so.”

  “I’d agree there.”

  “Or he thought she was dead. She’s lying there, out, bleeding from the head. He’s a little panicked—so he gets his toys and runs home.”

  “Either way he’d be a sadistic bastard.”

  “Yeah, he would. And while this may be his first kill, it’s not his first time with the rest. We’ll look there.”

  When the doorbell sounded, Roarke turned away. “I’ll see to that. It’s either your change of clothes or your partner.”

  “If it’s Peabody, send her straight up, and McNab can start on electronics.”

  Alone, she took another slow study of the room, the positioning of the furniture, the body, the suspected murder weapon, the pile of the female vic’s discarded clothes. She started toward the male vic’s closet, heard the unmistakable clomp of Peabody’s winter boots on the stairs, then a quick, high-pitched squeal.

  She had her hand on the weapon she’d set on her field kit when she heard the follow-up, and just rolled her eyes.

  “The shoes! Holy sacred stilettos, the shoes!”

  “Zip it, Peabody.”

  Rather than zipping it, Peabody made a yum sound, and stepped into the doorway holding one of Eve’s shoes as if it were a priceless gem.

  “They’re so awesome mag it’s beyond all magnitude.” Peabody completed the pink theme—pink coat, striped cap heavy on the pink, pink fuzzy-topped boots—with her square face flushed pink with awe.

  “Put the damn shoe down. Are those my clothes?”

  “What? Oh, yeah, we got here just as the driver pulled up with—” Peabody squealed again as she finally tore her eyes from the sparkle of the shoe and looked at Eve. “The dress!”

  “Shut up.” Eve snatched the garment bag from Peabody’s other hand.

  “Oh, but it’s gorgeous! It’s … sexigance.”