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A Textbook Case (lincoln rhyme)

Jeffery Deaver

  A Textbook Case

  ( Lincoln Rhyme )

  Jeffery Deaver

  From Jeffery Deaver — the New York Times bestselling author of the upcoming Lincoln Rhyme novel THE KILL ROOM (on sale June 4, 2013) — comes an original short story featuring Rhyme.

  When a young woman is found brutally murdered in a parking garage, with a veritable mountain of potential evidence to sift through, it may be the most challenging case former NYPD detective Lincoln Rhyme has ever taken on.

  Jeffery Deaver

  A Textbook Case

  Physical evidence cannot be wrong, it cannot perjure itself, it cannot be wholly absent. Only human failure to find it, study and understand it, can diminish its value.

  — Paul L. Kirk, Crime Investigation: Physical Evidence and the Police Laboratory


  “The worst I’ve ever seen,” he whispered.

  She listened to the young man’s words and decided that was a bit ironic, since he couldn’t have been more than mid-twenties. How many crime scenes could he have run?

  But she noted, too, that his round, handsome face, crested by a crew-cut scalp, was genuinely troubled. He had a military air about him and didn’t seem the sort to get flustered.

  Something particularly troubling was down there — in the pit of the underground garage they stood in front of, delineated by yellow fluttering tape, the pit where the woman had been murdered early that morning.

  Amelia Sachs was gearing up at the staging area outside the bland apartment building in this equally style-challenged neighborhood of Manhattan, East Twenty-sixth Street. Here were residential low rises from the 1950s and ‘60s, some brownstones, restaurants that had been born Italian twenty years ago and had converted to Middle Eastern. For greenery, short, anemic trees, striving grass, tiny shrubs in huge concrete planters.

  Sachs ripped open the plastic bag containing the disposable scene suit: white Tyvek coveralls, booties, head cap, cuffed nitrile gloves.

  “You’ll want the Ninety-five, too,” the young officer told her. His name was Marko, maybe first, probably last. Sachs hadn’t bothered to find out.

  “Chemical problem? Bio?” Nodding toward the pit.

  The N95 was a particulate respirator that filtered out a lot of the bad crap you found at some crime scenes. The dangerous ones.

  “Just, you’ll want it.”

  She didn’t like the respirators and usually wore a simple surgical mask. But if Marko told her there was a problem inside, she’d go with it.

  Worst I’ve ever seen…

  Sachs continued to pull on the protective gear. She was claustrophobic and didn’t like the layers of swaddling that crime scene searchers had to put up with, but were necessary to protect them from dangerous substances at the scene but more important protect the scene from contaminants police might throw off — their hairs, fibers, flecks of skin and other assorted trace they might cart about with them. (One man had nearly been arrested because a tomato seed had linked him to a murder — until it was discovered that the seed came from the shoe of a crime scene officer, who’d neglected to wear booties… and who was soon, thanks to Lincoln Rhyme, a former crime scene officer.)

  Several other cars arrived, including that of the Major Cases detective lieutenant, Lon Sellitto, an unmarked Crown Victoria. The car was spotless and still dripping from the car wash. Sellitto, on the other hand, was typically disheveled. He wore an unpressed white shirt, skewed tie and a rumpled suit, though fortunately in wrinkle-concealing navy blue (Sachs recalled that he’d worn seersucker once and never again; even he had thought he looked like tousled bed sheets). Sachs had given up trying to guess Sellitto’s age. He was in that timeless mid-fifties that all detectives first class on the NYPD seem to fall into.

  He was also an institution and he caught a few awed looks from the uniforms now as he pushed his way through the crowd of gawkers and with some difficulty, considering his weight, ducked under the yellow tape.

  He joined Sachs and Marko, who wasn’t particularly awed but clearly respectful.


  Sellitto didn’t have any idea who he was but nodded back. He said to Sachs, “How is he?”

  Which would mean only one “he.”

  “Fine. Been back for two days. Actually wanted to come to the scene.”

  Lincoln Rhyme, the former head of the NYPD crime scene operation and now a forensic consultant, had been undergoing a series of medical procedures to improve his condition — he was a quadriplegic, largely paralyzed from the neck down because of an accident while searching a scene years ago.

  Sellitto said a sincere “No shit. Wanted to come. God bless him.”

  Sachs gave the man a wry look. She was considerably younger and a more junior detective. But she didn’t let a lot pass — from anyone. Sellitto caught the glance. “Did that sound condescending?”

  She lifted an eyebrow, meaning, “Yep. And if Rhyme heard you say it, the reply would not be pretty.”

  “Well, fuck. Good for him anyway.” He focused on the off-white apartment, the water stains on the walls, the mismatched windows, the dented air conditioners underneath them, the sad grass, sick or dying from city dogs more than from the cool air. Still, even an air-shaft studio would cost two thousand and change. When Sachs was not staying with Rhyme she was at her place in Brooklyn. Big. And it had a garden. The month was September and she’d just harvested the last crop of veggies, beating the frost by twenty-four hours.

  Sachs tucked her abundant red hair up under the Tyvek cap and Velcroed closed the coveralls over her jeans and tight wool sweater. The suit fit snugly. Marko watched, somewhat discreetly. Sachs had been a fashion model before joining the NYPD. She got followed by a lot of eyes.

  “Chance of the scene being hot?” she asked Marko.

  It was rare for perps to stick around a murder scene and target investigators, but not unheard of.

  “Doubt it,” the young officer responded. “But…”

  Made sense for him to hedge when it came to a scene that was apparently so horrific.

  Before suiting up, Sachs had drawn and set her Glock pistol aside. She now wiped it down with an alcohol swab to remove trace and slipped it into the pocket of the coveralls. If she needed the weapon, she could get to it quickly, even fire through the cloth, if need be. That was good about Glocks. No external safeties, double action. You pointed and pulled.

  Any chance of it being hot?…

  And what the hell was so bad about the scene? How had the poor woman died? And what had happened to her before… or after?

  She guessed it was a sado-sexual killing.

  Sellitto said to Marko, “What’s the story, Officer?”

  He looked back and forth from the older detective to Sachs as he gave the story. “I’m assigned to crime scene in Queens, HQ, sir. I had some advanced training at the academy this morning so I was heading there, when I heard the call.”

  The NYPD academy on Twentieth Street at Second Avenue.

  “Dispatch said any available. I was two blocks away so I responded. I had gear with me and I suited up before I went in.” Marko, too, was dressed in a Tyvek crime scene outfit, minus the head covering.

  “Good thinking.”

  “I wouldn’t have waited but the dispatch said the report was a body, not an injured victim.”

  Crime scenes were always a compromise. Contamination with outside trace and obliterating important evidence could hamper or even ruin an investigation but first responders’ priority is saving lives or collaring perps who were still present. Marko had acted right.

  “I looked at the scene fast then called in.”

  Two other crime scene people from the
Queens headquarters had just arrived in the RRV — rapid response vehicle — containing evidence collection gear. The man and woman climbed out, she Asian, he Latino. He opened the back and they, too, got their gear. “Hey, Marko,” he called, “how’d you beat us? Take a chopper over here?”

  The young officer gave a faint smile. But it was clear he was still troubled, presumably by what he’d seen inside.

  Sellitto asked Marko, “You know any of the players yet?”

  “Just, her boyfriend called it in. That’s all I know.”

  The older detective said, “I’ll talk to him and get a canvass team going. You handle the scene, Amelia. We’ll rendezvous back at Lincoln’s.”


  “Detective Rhyme’s going to be on the case?” Marko asked.

  Rhyme was decommissioned — he’d been a detective captain — but in policing, like the military, titles tended to stick.

  “Yeah,” Sellitto muttered. “We’re running it out of there.” Rhyme’s townhouse was often the informal command post for cases that Sellitto drew or picked.

  Marko said, “I missed my class already. At the academy. Any chance I could stay and help out?”

  Apparently the horror of the scene wasn’t going to deter him.

  Sellitto said, “Detective Sachs’s lead crime scene. Up to her.”

  One of the biggest problems in law enforcement was getting enough people to help in an investigation. And you could never have enough crime scene searchers. She said, “Sure, appreciate it.” She nodded toward the entrance to the parking garage beneath the building. “I’ll take the ramp and the scene itself. You and those other teams handle the—”

  Marko interrupted. “Secondary and tertiary scenes. Entrance and egress points. I took Detective Rhyme’s course.”

  He said this proudly.

  “Good. Now tell me exactly where the vic is.”

  “Go down the ramp two levels. She’s on the bottom one at the back. The only car there.” He paused. “Can’t miss it.”


  “Okay. Now, get to those scenes.”

  “Yes’m, Detective. We’ll get on the grid.”

  Sachs nearly smiled. He’d slung the last word out like a greeting among initiates in a secret club. Walking the grid…. It was Rhyme’s coined phrase for searching a scene in the most comprehensive way possible, covering every square inch — twice.

  Marko joined his colleagues.

  “Hey, you’re a ma’am now, Amelia.”

  “It was just an ‘m. Don’t make me older than I feel.”

  “You could be his… older sister.”

  “Funny.” Then Sachs said, “Get a bio on the vic, too, Lon. As much as you can.”

  For some years now she had worked with Lincoln Rhyme and under his tutelage she’d become a fine crime scene searcher and a solid forensic analyst. But her first skill and love in policing was people — a legacy from her father, who was an NYPD patrol officer all his life. She loved the psychology of crime, which Lincoln Rhyme tended to disparage as the “soft” side of policing. But Sachs believed that sometimes the physical evidence didn’t lead you to the perp’s doorstep. Sometimes you needed to look closely at the people involved, at their passions, their fears, their motives. All the details of their lives.

  Sellitto hulked off, gesturing Patrol Division officers to join him and they huddled to arrange for canvass teams.

  Sachs opened a vinyl bag and withdrew a high-def video camera rig. As she’d done with her weapon, she wiped this down, too, with the alcohol swabs. She slipped the lightweight unit over the plastic cap encasing her head. The small camera sat just above her ear and a nearly invisible stalk mike arced toward her mouth. Sachs clicked the video and audio switches and winced when loud static slugged her eardrum. She adjusted it.

  “Rhyme, you there?”

  A moment of clatter. “Yes, yes, you there, you at the scene? Are you on the grid, Sachs? Time’s wasting.”

  “Just got here. I’m ready to go. How are you feeling?”

  “Fine, why wouldn’t I be?”

  A three-hour microsurgery operation a couple of days ago?

  She didn’t answer.

  “What’s that light? Jesus, it’s bright.”

  She’d glanced at the sky and a slash of morning sun would have blasted into the video camera and onto the high-def monitor Rhyme would be looking at. “Sorry.”

  In a gloved hand Sachs picked up the evidence collection bag — a small suitcase — and a flashlight and began walking down the ramp into the garage.

  She was glancing at her feet. Odd.

  Rhyme caught it, too. “What’m I looking at, Sachs?”

  “Trash.” The ramp was filthy. A nearby Dumpster was on its side and the dozen garbage bags inside had been pulled out and ripped open. The contents covered the ground.

  It was a mess.

  “Hard to hear you, Sachs.”

  “I’m wearing an N-Ninety-five.”

  “Chemical, gas?”

  “That first responding told me it was a good idea.”

  “It’s really dark,” the criminalist then muttered.

  The video camera automatically went to low-light mode — that greenish tint from spy movies and reality TV — but there were limits to how much bits and bytes could convey.

  Eyes, too, for that matter. It was dark. She noted the bulbs were missing. She paused.

  “What?” he asked.

  “The bulbs aren’t just missing, Rhyme. Somebody took them out and broke them. They’re shattered.”

  “If our doer’s behind it, that means he probably isn’t from the building. He doesn’t know where the switch is and didn’t want to take the time to find it.”

  Count on Rhyme to come to conclusions like that… from a mere wisp of an observation.

  “But why broken?”

  “Maybe just being cautious. Tough to get prints or lift other trace from a shattered bulb. Hm, he could be a smart one.”

  Rhyme, Sachs was pleased to note, was in a good mood. The medical treatments — complicated, expensive and more than a little risky — were going well. He’d regained significant movement in both arms and hands. Not sensation; nothing would bring that back, at least not as medical science stood nowadays, but he was far less dependent than he had once been and that meant the world to a man like Lincoln Rhyme.

  She finally had to resort to her flashlight. She clicked on the long Maglite and continued past a dozen parked cars, some of whose owners were undoubtedly furious that they had not been allowed to use their vehicles, because of the minor inconvenience of a murder near where they’d parked. But, on the other hand, there’d also be plenty who’d do whatever they could to help nail the suspect.

  Nothing teaches you human nature like being a cop.

  Sachs felt a ping of the arthritis pain that plagued her in her knees and slowed. She then stopped altogether, not because of joint discomfort, but because of noises. Creaks and taps. A door closed — an interior door, not a car. It seemed a long ways off, but she couldn’t tell. The walls muffled and confused sounds.


  She turned suddenly, nearly swapping flashlight for Glock.

  No, just dripping water, from a pipe. Water dribbled down the incline, mixing with the papers and other trash on the floor; there was even more garbage here.

  “Okay, Rhyme,” she said. “I’m almost at the bottom level. She and her car’re around that corner.”

  “Go on, Sachs.”

  She realized she’d stopped. She was uneasy. “I just can’t figure out all this garbage.”

  Sachs began walking again, slowly making her way to the corner, paused, set down the suitcase and drew her gun. In the flashlight beam was a faint haze. She lifted the mask off, inhaled and coughed. There was pungency to the air. Paint maybe, or chemicals. And smoke. She found the source. Yes, some newspapers were smoldering in the corner.

  That’s what Marko had been referring to.

p; “Okay, I’m going into the scene, Rhyme.”

  Thinking of Marko’s words.

  The worst…

  Weapon up, she turned the corner and aimed the powerful wide-angle beam of the flashlight at the victim and her vehicle.

  Sachs gasped. “Oh, Jesus, Rhyme. Oh, no…”


  At 4:00 p.m. Amelia Sachs walked into Lincoln Rhyme’s townhouse on Central Park West.

  Rhyme found himself glaring toward her — partly because of the powerful autumn light streaming in from the open door behind her, partly because of his impatience.

  The crime scene search had taken forever, six and a half hours to be precise, the longest for a single scene he could remember.

  Sachs had told him that the young officer who’d been first response reported it was the worst scene he’d ever come across. Partly, he meant that the victim had died a horrific, sadistic death. But equally he was referring to the complete contamination of the scene.

  “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Sachs had told Rhyme through the microphone. And gazing at the high-def screen, he had to admit that he hadn’t either. Every square inch of the area — from the ramp to the garage floor to the victim’s car and surrounding area — was obliterated, covered with trash. And painted, powdered, coated with liquids, dusted with dirt and powders.

  It was actually hard to locate the victim herself for all the mess.

  Rhyme now piloted his red Storm Arrow wheelchair to the front door, through which Sachs was carrying a large carton filled with evidence collection bags. She explained that the first responder, a crime scene officer named Marko, and she had sped here in their private vehicles — his an SUV. Rhyme noted that the vehicle was loaded to the gunwales with cartons of evidence. Young man, picking up a massive carton, had a military air about him. He did a double-take when he saw Rhyme. He nodded.

  Rhyme ignored him, focusing on the astonishing quantity of evidence. Sachs’s ancient Ford was filled, too. He didn’t see how she’d been able to drive it.