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Echoes in Death, Page 3

J. D. Robb

  “It’s a dress, and that’s not even a word.”

  “Sexy elegance. It’s all so … you got blood and matter on the hem, and some blood— A good cleaner can get all that out.”

  “That is my immediate priority. The dead guy over there? He’s an afterthought.”

  “It’s just that—” Peabody broke off, focusing on the body and finding her inner cop. “He won’t have to worry about having that suit cleaned. He was a doctor, right? No physician healing himself this round. Any update on the wife’s status?”

  “No. We’ll get to that. I’ve notified the sweepers and the morgue. I’ve got TOD, and the obvious on-scene COD. Seal up, start on the room. I’m using the bathroom to change.”

  Shutting herself in the elaborate white-and-gold bathroom, Eve stripped out of the dress. Relief was immediate.

  In the bag she found everything she needed. She tried not to think of Summerset selecting and packing her underwear—that way lay madness—but pulled it on, dragged on soft wool trousers, blissfully black, a pale gray sweater, her weapon harness and main police issue, sturdy black boots, a black jacket with needle-thin gray stripes.

  He’d included the cases for the jewelry she wore, so she took it off, piece by piece, puzzled out the coordinating cases. He’d also included her ankle holster—she had to give him props for that as she strapped it on.

  That left her coat, the snowflake hat she’d grown fond of, a scarf with black, gray, and red stripes—she could live with the red—and a pair of surely insanely expensive fur-lined gloves she’d lose in no time.

  Feeling like herself again, she rolled her shoulders, glanced at the ornately framed mirror over the long vanity. Said, “Shit!”

  Real clothes (even if they were embarrassingly fashionable) aside, she still had on her fancy party face. And had no way to take it down to cop.

  She grabbed the garment bag, stepped out. “Peabody!”

  “Sir!” Snapping to it, Peabody stuck her head out of Anthony Strazza’s closet.

  “Do you have any gunk? You know, the gunk that takes off the gunk?” To illustrate, Eve circled a finger in front of her face.

  “Cleanser? Enhancement remover? No, not with me.”

  “Crap, crap, crap.”

  “You look good.”

  “Another of my top priorities.”

  “No, really. You still look like a hard-ass. In fact, the lip dye only boosts the hard-assery.”

  “Bullshit.” But since previous experience had taught her that soap and water simply smeared everything so the skin looked like one livid bruise, she opted to forget her face.

  But when she walked over, started to shove the shoes into the bag, Peabody leaped toward her.

  “No! You can’t just shove them in there. Aren’t there shoe bags? Let me do it. Let me! Dr. Strazza strikes as more than a little OCD.”


  “His closet. It’s obsessively organized. He has about sixty white dress shirts—same shirt like sixty times. White shirts, black shirts, a smaller amount in gray. Black pants, black suits, gray suits. No color. Everything’s in order,” she continued as she bagged the shoes. “Everything’s precisely hung. He’s got some casual wear in drawers—a built-in—and workout gear same deal, though he loosened up there enough for a little navy blue. Even his casual clothes are precisely folded and coordinated. Same with underwear and socks. Oh, and every shirt—even the casual—has his monogram on the cuffs.

  “He has two pair of white athletic shoes,” Peabody went on, “two pair of black—all four the same brand and style, all pristine. All the rest are black dress shoes. About fifty pair. His closet comp not only lists each article of clothing, when he last wore it, and where, but when and where it was purchased. Nothing is more than a year old.”

  “So he was fussy.”

  “And then some.”

  “Check out the other closet.”

  Eve moved to a bedside table, opened the drawer. She took out a tablet, and at her swipe saw it was passcoded. She tagged and bagged it for McNab to take into the Electronic Detectives Division. She bagged a bottle of prescription sleep aids, another bottle for male sexual enhancement, a white silk blindfold, and a long white silk cord.

  Considering all, she walked around the bed to the other night table. Another tablet—no passcode. On it she found a number of books on entertaining, hostessing, menus.

  Peabody stepped out as Eve sniffed a small bottle with a gold lily as a topper. “Perfume. And her bedside tablet’s filled with domestic stuff. No photos, no personal data, no music, no novels.”

  “Her closet’s nearly the female version of his, organizationally. Not quite as precise, but close. Nearly everything’s white, but there are some prints, some color—but it’s either gold or silver over white. And the underwear runs from virginal to deep slut city. Same with her nightwear.”

  “Interesting. No sex toys. He’s got his performance enhancer candy and that’s it.” She circled the room. “Could be a kind of theme, right? Bedroom’s all white and gold. Like a church or temple. Anyway…”

  They went back to it. By the time Eve finished the bathroom—a lot of bath oil and female products in the same scent as the perfume—the morgue team and the sweepers were at work.

  She turned a tube of cleanser in her hand, sorely tempted, but put it back.

  “Lilies and white. Lily-white. Maybe the guy wanted that from the wife. Or wanted her to project that. That image shattered when she was raped.”

  “You think the killer knew them, or one of them?”

  “He knew enough to get into the bedroom undetected,” Eve said as they started out. “He knew enough. Daphne Strazza said he was in the bedroom when they came up for the night after the party. She said he was the devil. She’s still in shock, but that’s how she described him.”

  “A mask?”

  “That’s my take. We need the name of whoever catered the party, any outside staff. Valets, bartenders, servers, extra housekeeping, decorators. Some of that’s on her tablet, as is the guest list.”


  “Considering, to the best of my knowledge, all the regular household staff are droids, now kicked to hell and back, it is pretty handy.”

  “Next of kin?”

  “He has parents—divorced. Mother’s in France—a retired physicist, remarried. Father’s a neurologist, department head in a private hospital in Switzerland. Her parents were killed in a tsunami in Asia while the whole family was vacationing. She was nine. She was raised by Gayle and Barry DeSilva—family friends and the appointed guardians through the parents’ wills. They, like Daphne Strazza’s deceased parents, live in Minnesota. I haven’t made any notifications, or done any deeper runs.”

  They stood outside Strazza’s home office, looking in.

  “I can start the runs,” Peabody said.

  “Do that, and check on the e-geeks. They’ve obviously been here, taken Strazza’s desk comp and comm center. I want to look around.” Eve checked her wrist unit. “I’ll contact Strazza’s parents shortly. We need to see about another interview with Daphne Strazza, and we’ll see if she wants her guardians contacted.”

  “She has to have a pal,” Peabody pointed out. “Probably on the guest list. Everybody’s got a pal.”

  Though Eve nodded as she moved into the office, she knew differently. She hadn’t had anyone remotely like a pal. Until Mavis Freestone. She’d lived two decades of her life without someone close enough to be considered a friend.

  A short round in Strazza’s office added weight to Peabody’s OCD diagnosis. Everything in the room was meticulously organized. Every drawer and door secured. Roarke or McNab—or both—had bypassed the locks and codes, so she sat in Strazza’s custom-built leather chair, fishing through his desk.

  McNab pranced in on plaid airboots, his blond hair streaming back in a tail, earlobes forested with glittery hoops. He wore a sweatshirt sporting a madly gyrating Elvis over sapphire-blue baggy pants with a h
alf dozen emerald and ruby pockets.

  “Hey, Dallas, early start. Wanted to let you know I had a team come in to haul in the murdered droids. We got some non-humanoid domestics. We’ll look at them, but don’t expect much there. Gathering up ’links and comps and tabs. Peabody said you got his-and-hers tabs from the bedroom.”

  “His passcoded, hers not.”

  “Follows what we’re finding. He had that desk customed for his thumbprint on the drawers. Even the supply closet has a lock code. Same with the half bath there.” He jerked a thumb. “Who puts a security code on their office john?”

  “Apparently Dead Strazza.” She looked up again, winced. “Can you turn that thing off?”

  He glanced around, his pretty face puzzled. “What thing?”

  “That thing on your bony chest. It’s distracting.”

  He looked down at Elvis, grinned. “Oh, sure. Forgot.” And tapped a finger on Elvis’s midsection. The long-dead king froze mid swivel.

  “So, anyhows, we looked at the three safes, including the one inside a cabinet in a man-type den on the main level. All cleaned out—all opened with codes. Looking like one of the vics gave him the codes.”

  “Strazza—it’s pretty clear his wife wouldn’t have them.”

  “Right. Burglarizing, raping killer didn’t bother with electronics—at least there are plenty of high-end and portable still on the premises. Roarke says there are empty spots around where maybe art’s gone missing.”

  “We’ll get insurance info, cross-check. Art, jewelry, any cash that may have been in any of the safes. Passports and IDs, credit and banking info. All that’s lucrative if you know how to turn it, and I’m not finding passports, IDs.”

  “We’ll check the comps for financial info. We can take a whack at the security system, but like the house droids, whoever bashed them knew how to bash. And took the main drive with him.”

  “You talk to the machines.” Eve pushed out of the chair. “I’ll be talking to people.”

  “We do what we do. Hey, you look good.”

  Eve narrowed her eyes. “What did you say?”

  “Nothing personal.” He all but froze in place. “Just an observation. Lieutenant.”

  “She does look good, doesn’t she?” Roarke spoke cheerfully, slapping a hand on McNab’s shoulder as he came in behind him. “Particularly considering she’s been up about twenty-four hours straight now. Your morgue team’s taken the body out and, as dawn has broken, your uniforms have barricaded off the early morning gawkers.”

  “Okay.” She stared through McNab. “Have you run out of things to do, Detective?”

  “Always something,” he said and vanished.

  Roarke moved in, laid his hands on Eve’s hips. “You do look good.”

  “I don’t have any of the gunk to take off the gunk.” She tapped her cheek.

  “You’ll survive a few more hours of it.” He kissed the cheek she’d tapped, then the other. “I’ll take your other clothes with me as I need to go home and change myself at some point. Your car’s out front.”

  “Appreciate it. I think he ruled her.”

  “You’re talking about the Strazzas’ relationship.”

  “Yeah. All her devices open, all his passcoded. His spaces secured, right down to the office john. Hers, open again. Her closet mirrors his. I think he selected her clothes. I get you pick out most of mine,” she said quickly. “But … they work. For me. And even when I find sexy girl underwear or whatever in my drawers, you don’t go Slut City on me.”

  “Well now, my mind’s taking a stroll down Main Street of Slut City, and considering.”

  “You think of me. The boots, say, may be styling in a way I wouldn’t think of, but they’re sturdy, comfortable, made for legwork, for chasing down bad guys. There’s a difference between that and filling my closet so I have to wear what you want.”

  “I certainly hope so.”

  “I hate to shop. You, for some reason, consider it entertaining. She doesn’t have a space in this house. Her own space.”

  “That I noticed.”

  “You made one for me. Here? He’s got the third floor, plus this office, a sort of manly den going downstairs, according to McNab. Nothing reflects her, is made for her. Maybe she wanted it that way, maybe she liked being ruled. Some do. But…”

  She turned away, circled the room.

  “You think not.”

  “I don’t think yet. What I know is that her personal tablet reads like she’s staff. Lists and chores and menus. No photos, no notes to friends, sent or received. She lost her parents when she was nine, but there’s nothing in the tablet, nothing I’ve seen in the house to remind her of them. Or of the people who raised her. They have a daughter about her age. Were they friends or foes?”

  “What would any of that tell you about the assault and the murder?”

  “Don’t know until I know.” She leaned back on the desk. “He had male enhancement pills in his nightstand—not surprising for a man twice his wife’s age. And a silk blindfold and binding cord.”

  “A little sexual bondage between willing partners is hardly surprising, either.”

  “If it’s mutual,” she agreed. “He’s got a full med kit in the bathroom, and that’s not surprising for a doctor. It’s not surprising he kept it in a medical bag. A fancy one with his initials engraved on it, and with a lock it took me nearly ten minutes to pick.”

  “I’m proud of you. But ten?” Roarke shook his head. “We need more practice, Lieutenant.”

  “A lot of stuff in there—bottles, pills, syringes. I’m going to have everything analyzed. Just to be thorough. I need the vic’s lawyer, the insurance company. I have to hope EDD can pull that out of the comps straight off, save me time and trouble.”

  “I think you can count on that.”

  “Okay, then I’m going to leave the house to the sweepers for now, and head out, work down the guest list, see what kind of party we had going. Hit the party staff, swing by to see if I can get more out of Daphne Strazza, and … so on. Sorry about the quiet Sunday at home.”

  “I don’t think either of us is to blame for nearly running into a naked, traumatized woman on the street.”

  “Yeah, but only one of us is a cop.”

  “And thank God for it.” This time he kissed her enthusiastically. “Your vehicle’s out front, and I have my own. I may wander into EDD myself later in the day.”

  “Because you find geek work as entertaining as shopping.”

  “I do. Meanwhile?” He tapped a finger on the dent of her chin. “Take care of my cop.”

  When he left, she sat down again to make the notifications.

  She made notes, revised others, checked on Daphne Strazza—under mild sedation, sleeping, undisturbed. No visitors.

  She took a pass at the guest list she’d copied onto her PPC, devised a system for the first half dozen guests.

  And found Peabody downstairs doing a search of the manly den.

  “I figured I’d hit the more personal spaces,” Peabody began.

  “Good figuring. Anything?”

  “More meticulous organizing, so what’s out of place sticks out. I think there are some things missing. You can see the vic had a bunch of awards and photos—or his photo with important types. But whatever was on that pedestal thing’s gone, and there’s a couple spaces on those shelves. See how it’s all precise? Everything pretty much equidistant from each other. Except for that glass plaque and that framed wedding photo.”

  “I get you. Something was between them, and between that really ugly bowl and that other ugly bowl.”

  “Yeah. We can surmise whatever was there took the killer’s fancy. He didn’t bother with, say, this throw—handmade silk batik, and probably worth several thousand. And that lamp? It’s a signed Terrezio. That’s about ten grand.”

  “For that lamp?” Flabbergasted, Eve stared at the triangular gold base, the triangular shade with its white and gold glass panels. “Seriously?”

>   “Deadly. I know because Mavis and I went with Nadine to this fancy auction last week, and Nadine bought one. She got hers for eight-five, and I like it a lot better than this one, but—”

  Flabbergasted yet again, Eve waved a hand. “Nadine bought a lamp for eight and a half large?”

  “She’s got that big new apartment to furnish.”

  “How am I friends with any of you? How is this possible?”

  “Hers is really pretty—not gaudy like this one. Anyway, it was fun to look at all the stuff, and I picked up some things—I mean what they are, not actually picking them up. I was literally afraid to touch anything. What I’m saying is there’s a lot of pick-and-go stuff around here I can spot that’s worth bunches. Weird-ass burglary that leaves tens of thousands behind with a DB.”

  “Some specialize. You come for the jewelry or the electronics. How many people would look at that lamp and think it’s worth ten grand? But you’re right, it’s a weird-ass burglary if that was the goal.”

  Eve frowned at the empty place on the shelf. “He went through grabbing what caught his fancy along with cleaning out safes. Maybe weird, maybe just a flourish. We’re leaving the rest of this to the sweepers for now. We have the chief of surgery at St. Andrew’s and her husband on the guest list last night. We’ll hit them first, then the hospital, go from there.”

  Peabody picked up her coat from where she’d tossed it, began to wind her mile-long scarf around her neck. “Notifications done?”

  “Vic’s parents, yeah.” Eve pulled on her snowflake cap as they headed out. “Shock from both of them. Some tears, a lot of questions. And what struck me as a kind of emotional distance.”

  She realized she’d forgotten just how freaking cold it was when the first gust of winter wind blasted her. She strode straight to her car, parked considerately at the curb. “I asked them both when they’d last seen or spoken with their son.”

  Eve got in, hit the heat, the seat warmers. “Coffee,” she told Peabody. “Get us coffee.”

  “Don’t have to ask twice.” Peabody immediately programmed the in-dash AutoChef for two coffees: one black, one regular.

  “The father told me he saw Strazza three years ago when the father came to New York for a medical conference.”