Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Burial Hour, Page 2

Jeffery Deaver

"Just sweats and a shirt. Maybe a tie. I don't know."

  "Tie? And you didn't complain?"

  True, Rhyme had little patience for what he considered affectation. But this occasion was different. For all her edge and edginess and her need of speed and blunt firearms, her passion for tactical solutions, Sachs had a splinter of teen girl within her and she was enjoying the game of wedding planning. This included shopping for a whatever-the-hell-it-was trousseau and a romantic honeymoon, and if that pleased her, by God, Rhyme was more than happy to accommodate.

  Though he really hoped he could convince her about Greenland.

  "Well, tell her to shop later. I need her to run a scene. We've got a situation."

  A ping resounded within Rhyme the way a submarine's sonar detects something unexpected off the port bow.

  He texted Sachs and received no response. "Maybe on the stand, testifying. Tell me more."

  Thom appeared in the doorway--Rhyme hadn't realized he'd left. The aide said, "Lon, coffee? Cookies? I've been baking. I've got a couple of different kinds. One is--"

  "Yes, yes, yes." It was Rhyme answering. "Bring him something. Make a decision yourself. I want to hear his story."


  "Proceed," he told Sellitto.

  "Anything chocolate," Sellitto called to Thom's back.

  "Easily arranged."

  "Kidnapping, Linc. Upper East Side. Apparently one adult male snatched another."

  "Apparently? What requires interpretation?"

  "The only wit was nine years old."


  "Perp grabs vic, tosses him into a car trunk. Takes off."

  "The girl is sure about this? Not a figment of her overactive little imagination, stoked by watching too much television, ruining her thumbs on video games, reading too many Hello Pony stories?"

  "Hello Kitty. Ponies are a different book."

  "Did Mommy or Daddy confirm?"

  "Morgynn, the girl, was the only one who saw. But I think it's legit. She found a calling card he'd left behind." Sellitto held up his phone and displayed a photo.

  At first Rhyme couldn't make out the image. It was a picture of a dark shape, thin, lying on a sidewalk.

  "It's a--"

  Rhyme interrupted. "Noose."


  "Made out of?"

  "Not sure. Girl said he set it on the spot where he got the vic. She picked it up but the responding set it back in the same place he'd left it, more or less."

  "Great. I've never worked a scene contaminated by a nine-year-old."

  "Relax, Linc. All she did was pick it up. And the responding wore gloves. Scene's secure, waiting for somebody to run it. Somebody, as in Amelia."

  The noose was made out of dark material, which was stiff, since segments were not flush with the pavement, as would be the case with more limp fibers. From the size of the poured-concrete sidewalk panel, the noose was about twelve to fourteen inches long in total, the neck hoop about a third of that.

  "The wit's still on scene. With Mommy. Who isn't very happy."

  Neither was Rhyme. All they had to go on was a nine-year-old schoolgirl with the observational skills and perception of a...well, nine-year-old schoolgirl.

  "The vic? Rich, politically active, connected with OC, record?"

  Sellitto said, "No ID yet. Nobody reported missing. A few minutes after the snatch somebody saw a phone fly outta a car--dark sedan, nothing more. Third Avenue. Dellray's boys're running it. We find out who, we find out why. Business deal gone bad, vic has information somebody wants, or the old standby. For-profit ransom."

  "Or it's a psycho. There was the noose, after all."

  "Yeah," Sellitto said, "and the vic just happened to be WTWP."


  "Wrong time, wrong place."

  Rhyme scowled once more. "Lon?"

  "It's going around the department."

  "Flu viruses--not viri, by the way--go around the department. Idiotic expressions do not. Or should not, at least."

  Sellitto used the cane to rise to his feet and aimed his bulky form toward the tray of cookies that Thom was setting down, like a Realtor seducing prospective buyers at a condominium open house. The detective ate one, then two, then another, nodded approval. He poured himself a cup of coffee from a silver pitcher and spilled in artificial sweetener, his concession to the battle against calories being to sacrifice refined sugar for pastry.

  "Good," he announced through a mouthful of cookie. "You want one? Some coffee?"

  The criminalist's eyes swiveled instinctively toward the Glenmorangie, sitting golden and alluring on the high shelf.

  But Lincoln Rhyme decided: No. He wanted his faculties about him. He had a feeling that the girl's observations were all too accurate, that the kidnapping had occurred just as she had described it and that the macabre calling card was a taunting message of a death soon to be.

  And perhaps more after that.

  He texted Amelia Sachs once again.

  Chapter 3

  A plop, as water fell from ceiling to floor.

  Ten feet.

  Every four seconds.

  Plop, plop, plop.

  The resulting sound wasn't a splash. The floor of this old, old factory, now abandoned, was scarred from the passage of metal and wooden objects, and the water didn't accumulate in pools but eased away in crevices and cuts, as patterned as an old man's face.

  Plop, plop.

  Moans, too, as the chill autumn breeze slipped over the mouths of ducts, pipes and vents, the way you'd blow across a bottle neck to make a hooing sound. Didn't see that much anymore, no, you didn't. Because kids used to do it mostly with soda bottles, which were now plastic, not glass. Plastic didn't work very well. Beer bottles you could use but adults didn't get any pleasure out of the hooo-hoooing sounds.

  Stefan had once written a piece of music to be played on Mountain Dew bottles, each filled with a different amount of water to produce a chromatic scale of twelve notes. He had been six years old.

  The tones the factory now made were a C sharp, an F, a G. There was no rhythm, as the wind was irregular. Also:

  Distant traffic, a constant.

  More-distant exhalations of jet airplanes.

  Not distant at all: a rat skittering.

  And, of course, the most captivating sound of all: the rasping breath of the man sitting in a chair in the corner of this dim storage room. Hands bound. Feet bound. Around his neck, a noose. The string Stefan had left on the sidewalk as a grisly announcement of the kidnapping was a cello string; this noose was made of two longer strings, bound together to extend the length--they were the lowest and thickest strings of an upright double bass, one of those instruments that made the happy transition from classical music to jazz. Made of mutton serosa--the lining of a sheep's intestine--these were the most expensive musical strings on the market. Each had cost $140. They produced the richest tone, and there were world-class violinists, cellists and bass players who would never think of playing a baroque piece on anything but this. Gut strings were far more temperamental than metal or nylon strings and might go out of tune at the slightest change in temperature or humidity.

  For Stefan's immediate purpose, though, the strings' intolerance of humidity was irrelevant; for hanging someone, they worked just great.

  The loop hung loosely around the man's neck and the tail rested on the floor.

  Stefan shivered from excitement, the way any pilgrim would at the beginning of his quest. He shivered from the chill too, even though he was an insulated man--in all senses: heavyset, with long, dense curly dark hair dropping well past his ears, and full beard, and a silken pelt of chest and arm hair. And he was swathed in protective clothing too: a white sleeveless undershirt beneath a heavy dark-gray work shirt, a black waterproof jacket and dungarees, also dark gray. They were like cargo pants but not cargo pants because the place where he'd been living until recently did not permit anyone to have pockets. Stefan was thirty years old but appeared youn
ger, thanks to the smooth, baby-fat skin.

  The room these two men were in was deep within the sprawling place. He'd set it up yesterday, moving in a table and chairs he'd found in other parts of the factory. A small battery-powered light. His musical, recording and video equipment too.

  The watch on his wrist revealed the time to be 10:15 a.m. He should get started. He'd been careful but you never knew about the police. Had that little girl seen more than it seemed she had? The license plate was smeared with mud but someone might have noted the first two letters. Maybe enough to track the vehicle to the long-term parking lot at JFK airport, where it had been until yesterday. Using algorithms, using deductions, using interview skills...they might put an identification together.

  Can't have that now, can we? Have to be careful.

  I am, don't worry.

  Stefan believed he might have spoken these words aloud. Sometimes he wasn't sure if he thought his messages to Her or spoke them. Wasn't sure if Her responses were real or not, either.

  He laid the equipment out in front of him, examining keyboards and computer, cords and plugs. Switches clicked on. Hard drives hummed, adding sound.





  Ah, and the rat, too.


  As long as there were sounds, distracting sounds, seductive sounds, Stefan had a good chance of keeping the Black Screams away.

  So far, so good.

  And now to add one more sound, one of his own making. He played a melody on the Casio. He was not an exceptional musician but, given his love, his addiction, his obsession, he knew his way around a keyboard. He ran through the music once, then twice. These were good renditions. He tried it again.

  Stefan didn't pray, as such, but he did send a thought of thanks to Her for the inspiration to pick this composition.

  Now he rose and walked to the blindfolded man, who was wearing dark business slacks and a white business shirt. His jacket was on the floor.

  Stefan was holding a digital recorder. "Don't say anything."

  The man nodded and remained silent. Stefan gripped the noose and pulled it taut. With his other hand, he held the recorder in front of the man's mouth. The choking noise issuing from his lips was delightful. Complex, varied in tone and modulation.

  Almost, you might say, musical.

  Chapter 4

  Kidnappings and other serious investigations are generally run out of the Major Cases operation at 1PP, and there was a series of conference rooms reserved for task forces running such cases in that nondescript building not far from City Hall in downtown Manhattan. Nothing high-tech, nothing sexy, nothing out of binge-worthy TV shows. Just plain rooms.

  Because Lincoln Rhyme was involved, however, and his condition made commuting troublesome, his parlor--not One Police Plaza--was serving as HQ for the noose-kidnapping case.

  And the Victorian-era dwelling was buzzing.

  Lon Sellitto was still here, along with two additions: A slender, tidy, academic-looking middle-aged man in tweedy, blue clothes that might be called, at best, frumpy. Mel Cooper sported a pale complexion, a thinning crown and a pair of glasses that were stylish only thanks to the Harry Potter franchise. On his feet were Hush Puppies. Beige.

  The other newcomer was Fred Dellray, senior special agent in the FBI's Southern District office. With skin the shade of the mahogany desk he now half sat on, half leaned against, the tall, strikingly rangy man was dressed in an outfit that you wouldn't see...well, anywhere. A dark-green jacket, an orange button-down shirt and a tie that a bird-lover might say was too canary to be true. A pocket square was purple. His slacks were modest, by comparison, navy-blue houndstooth.

  While Cooper was sitting patiently on a lab stool, awaiting the evidence that Sachs was soon to return with, Dellray pushed off from the desk and paced, juggling two phone calls. The boundary between state and federal jurisdiction in criminal investigations is as gray as the East River in March but one undisputed area of joint authority is kidnapping. And for this offense, there was rarely any bickering over who wanted to run point. Saving the life of a person taken by force deflates egos fast.

  Dellray disconnected one then the other phone and announced, "Maybe got ourselves an ID of the vic. Took a bit of funny-doing, putting Part A together with Part B. But s'all coming down on the pretty side of probable."

  Dellray had advanced degrees--including psychology and philosophy (yes, one could philosophize as a hobby)--but he somehow fell naturally into a street patois of his own making, not gang-talk, not African American Vernacular English. It was, like his clothing and his penchant for reading Heidegger and Kant to his children, pure Dellray.

  He mentioned the phone that Sellitto had told Rhyme about, the one that the kidnapper had possibly flung out the window of his car, to keep from being traced, as he sped away from the scene with the victim in the trunk.

  "Our tech brain boys were all super 'cited 'bout trying to crack it--always a challenge those Apple folk give us. It's like playing Angry Birds to our team. When, lo and behold, there's no password! This day and age! They're prowling through the call logs, when, what happens, it rings. It's some business-soundin' fella waiting for Phone-Boy to show up for breakfast, grapefruit getting hot, oatmeal cold."


  "My, we are impatient this morning. Phone belongs to one Robert Ellis, head of a teensy start-up--my own description--in San Jose. In town lookin' for seed money. No record, pays his taxes. Profile's as booooring as a corset salesman's. And when I'm saying start-up don't be thinkin' Facebook, Crap-Chat, anything sexy and lucrative. His spec-i-al-i-ty's media buying. So it's not looking like a competitor snatched him."

  "Associates or family hear from the taker? About ransom?" Sellitto asked.

  "Nup. Phone logs show calls to a mobile registered to a woman lives at the same address he does. So, status o' girlfriend's a solid guess. But the provider says her phone's, of all things, way, way over in Japan. Presumably in the company of said lady, one Ms. Sabrina Dillon. My ASAC called her but hasn't heard back. Other numbers aren't remarkable. Just a guy in town for business. Doesn't seem to have much else in the way of family we could find."

  "Domestic issues?" Mel Cooper asked. He was a lab specialist, yes, but also an NYPD detective who'd worked cases for years.

  Dellray: "Nothin' on the radar. Though, even if so, I'm thinking a bit of cheatin' nookie doesn't really make you trunk-worthy."

  "True," Sellitto said.

  Rhyme said, "No OC connection."

  "Uh-uh. Boy is not a gangbanger, 'less they're teaching that now at UCLA. His alma mater."

  Sellitto said, "So, we're leaning toward some crazy."

  There was the noose, after all...

  "May be agreeing with you there, Lon," Dellray said.

  "Speculation," Rhyme grumbled. "We're wasting time."

  Where the hell were Sachs and the evidence collection teams?

  Cooper's computer made a cheerful noise and he looked it over.

  "From your evidence folks, Fred."

  Rhyme wheeled forward. The federal crime scene unit--the Physical Evidence Response Team--had analyzed the phone carefully and found no fingerprints. The perp had wiped it before pitching it out of the car.

  But the techs had found some trace--smudges of dirt and, wedged invisibly into the OtterBox cover, a short, light-colored hair. Human. There was no bulb attached, so no DNA analysis was possible. It was dry and appeared to have been dyed platinum blond.

  "Picture of Ellis?"

  A few minutes later Cooper downloaded an image from California DMV.

  A nondescript man of thirty-five. Lean face. His hair was brown.

  Whose head had the paler hair come from?

  The kidnapper himself?

  The aforementioned Sabrina?

  The door opened and Rhyme could tell that Amelia Sachs had returned. Her footfalls were distinctive. Before she even breached the doorway, he was
calling, "Sachs! Let's take a look."

  She entered through the archway, nodded a greeting to all. Then handed over the milk crate, containing evidence bags, to Cooper, who set them aside. He now dressed in full protective gear--booties, gloves, bonnet and splash guard, which mutually protected examiner and evidence.

  He set the items out on examination tables, which were in a separate part of the parlor, away from where the others, dressed in street clothing, clustered, to avoid contamination.

  The pickings were sparse. Rhyme knew this, as he'd been "with" Sachs, via video feed, as she'd walked the grid at the scene. All she'd found was the noose, random trace from where the abduction had occurred and shoe print and tire mark evidence.

  But even the tiniest of substances can, in theory, lead directly to your perp's front door.

  "So?" Sellitto asked. "What'd the munchkin say?"

  Sachs: "I'd trade the girl--Morgynn--for two of her mothers. She'll be in politics someday. Maybe a cop. She wanted to hold my gun. Anyway, the unsub was a heavyset white male, long dark hair, full beard, wearing dark casual clothes and dark baseball cap, long bill. A little taller than me. Same age as her tennis coach, Mr. Billings, who is--I checked--thirty-one. She didn't know the kind of car except it wasn't a Tesla, which her father drives--and tells everybody he drives. Morgynn didn't catch any distinguishings, but he was wearing blue gloves."

  "Damn," Rhyme muttered. "Anything else?"

  "No, but this was a first. Her mother, Claire, asked if I--or somebody I knew on the force--would want to moonlight as a waitperson at a party tonight."

  "What's she paying?" Sellitto asked.

  In no mood for humor, Rhyme said, "First, the noose. Any prints?"

  Cooper tested the cord in the fuming tent to raise invisible fingerprints and said, "A few slivers. Nothing to work with."

  "What's it made out of?" Dellray asked.

  "I'm checking now." Cooper looked at the material closely under a microscope--set on relatively low magnification. He then consulted a visual database.

  "I can run the chromatograph but I'm sure it's proteins--collagen, keratin and fibroin. I'd say catgut."

  Sellitto wrinkled his nose. "That's disgusting."

  Thom was laughing. "No cats involved."

  Cooper said, "That's right. It's called catgut but it's from sheep or goat intestines."

  Sellitto said, "Why's that any less disgusting?"

  The tech was online. He continued, "Gut was used as surgical sutures. Now the only use is musical-instrument strings. Steel and synthetic materials're more frequent nowadays, but"--he gave a shrug--"catgut is still common. Could've come from a hundred stores, concert halls and schools around the area. The length of this one? Probably from a cello."