Home > Obsession in Death (In Death #40)(2)

Obsession in Death (In Death #40)(2)
J.D. Robb

Peabody lifted her gaze to the message on the wall. “Literally reads.”

“Yeah. Security discs may tell a different tale, but it looks like the vic opened the door – someone she knew or thought she knew. Her killer disabled her – note to ME to put priority on tox screens, check body for any marks from a stunner or pressure syringe – or forced her back here. Places like this have excellent soundproofing, so she could have shouted for help, screamed, and it’s not likely anyone heard. Windows are privacy screened.”

“No sign on her wrists, her ankles that the killer used restraints.”

Eve approached the body now, examined the head, lifted it up, to check the back of the skull. “No injuries that indicate blunt force trauma.”

She reached into her own field kit for microgoggles, took a closer look. “Abrasion, small contusion. Fell back, hit her head maybe. Disabled, drugged or stunned, either when she opened the door, or if she knew the killer, after he was inside. Back here, carrying her or forcing her. The bedding’s not even mussed, the pillows are still stacked up behind her.”

Lifting one of the hands, she examined the fingers, the nails, under the nails. “Clean, no trace here, nothing to indicate she got a piece of her killer. You’re going to struggle, if you can, when somebody garrotes you, so she couldn’t struggle.”

With the microgoggles still in place, Eve leaned over the crystal dish to examine the severed tongue. “It looks pretty clean – not jagged, not sawed. Probably a thin, sharp blade. Maybe a scalpel. Can’t talk trash without your tongue,” she said half to herself. “Can’t defend criminals if you can’t talk. This was a little something extra, a symbol, a… token.”

“For you.”

Eve studied the message, coated a layer of ice over that sick thought. “Like I said, it reads that way. We butted heads over Jess Barrow a couple years back, and just before that when her partner was killed. She was a hard-ass, but she was mostly doing her job. Doing it as she saw it.”

Turning from the body now, Eve walked over into a large and perfectly appointed dressing room. “She’s got an outfit set out here. Black dress, fancy shoes, underwear, and jewelry to go with it that looks like the real deal. Nothing disturbed. She’d gotten out the wardrobe for her dinner meeting.”

She moved from there into an elaborate master bath, all white and silver. More purple flowers – must have been a favorite – in a square vase of clear glass on the long white counter.

“Towels on a warming rack, a robe on the hook by the shower, a glass of wine and some sort of face gunk set out on the counter.”

“It’s a mask.”

“I don’t see a mask.”

“A facial mask,” Peabody elaborated, patting her own cheeks. “And that’s a really high-end brand. Since there’s nothing else set out, it looks like maybe she’d been about to give herself a facial, have some wine while it set, then take a shower, but she went to answer the door.”

“Okay, good. She’s prepping for the meeting – we’ll check her home office – going to get clean and shiny, but somebody comes to the door.”

Eve walked out as she continued. “Nothing disturbed out here. Screen on in the bedroom – a little company or entertainment while she gets ready for dinner. She’s back there, in the bath or the dressing room when she gets the buzz.”

“Security on the main door,” Peabody pointed out. “Buzzed the killer in?”

“The security feed should tell us. However he got inside the building, she answers the door.”

She imagined it, Bastwick in her swanky at-home wear, going to the door. Look through the security peep first, check the monitor?

Why have good security if you didn’t use it? Used it, Eve concluded, felt no threat. Opened the door.

“He takes her down,” she continued. “Drags or carries her.”

“Or she took him back?” Peabody suggested. “A lover maybe?”

“She’s got a meeting. She doesn’t have time for sex. Not wearing sex clothes, no face enhancements. Could’ve forced her back, but it doesn’t feel like it. Nothing disturbed. Nothing out of place.”

Eve paused there, went back in, studied Bastwick’s feet, still cased in silvery slippers. “No scuffs on the heels. She wasn’t dragged.”

“Carried her, then.” Peabody, lips pursed in her square face, gauged the distance from living area to bedroom. “If he did take her down in here, it’s a good distance to cart her. Why?”

“Yeah, why? No overt signs of sexual assault. Maybe he re-dressed her after, but… Morris will tell us. Killer gets her onto the bed. No sign she was gagged, but the ME will check that, too. He kills her while she’s still out or stunned. Quick, cuts out her tongue to prove a point, writes the message so I’ll know what a favor he did for me, then gets out.

“Let’s talk to the admin, then review the discs. I want to go over this place before we call in the sweepers.”

Cecil Haversham looked like his name. Formal with a side of dapper. He wore his hair white, short, and Caesarean, which suited the natty, perfectly trimmed goatee. The center leg pleats on his stone-gray three-piece suit looked sharp enough to draw blood.

Distress emanated from him in apologetic waves as he sat on a curved-back chair at the side of the lipstick-red dining table with his hands neatly folded.

Eve nodded to the uniform to dismiss her, then rounded to the head of the table with Peabody taking the chair opposite their witness.

“Mr. Haversham, I’m Lieutenant Dallas, and this is Detective Peabody. I understand this is a difficult time for you.”

“It’s very disturbing.” His voice carried the faintest whiff of British upper class, though Eve’s quick run on him gave his birthplace as Toledo, Ohio.

“How long have you worked for Ms. Bastwick?”

“Nearly two years as her administrative assistant. Prior I served as Mr. Vance Collier’s – of Swan, Colbreck, Collier and Ives – admin.”

“And how did you come into her employ?”

“She offered me the position, at a considerable increase in salary and benefits. And I felt moving into criminal law from corporate and tax law would be… more stimulating.”

“As her admin, you’d be privy to her case files, her clients, and her social engagements.”

“Yes, of course. Ms. Bastwick is… was a very busy woman, professionally and personally. Part of my duties is to arrange her schedule, keep her calendar, make certain her time was well managed.”

“Do you know of anyone who’d wish Ms. Bastwick harm?”

“As a criminal defense attorney, she made enemies, of course. Prosecuting attorneys, clients who felt she hadn’t performed adequately – which would be nonsense, of course – and those individuals represented by the prosecution. Even some police.”

He gave Eve a steady if slightly distressed look. “It would be the nature of her work, you see.”

“Yeah. Does anyone stand out?”

“I’ve been asking myself that as I sat here, digesting it all. There have been threats, of course. We keep a file, which I’d be happy to have copied for you if the firm clears it. But nothing stands out in this way. In this tragic way. Ms. Bastwick always said that if nobody threatened her or called her… unattractive names, she wasn’t doing her job. I must say, Lieutenant, Detective, you must often find yourself in that same position. The work you do creates enemies, particularly, one would think, if you do it well.”

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