Home > Devoted in Death (In Death #41)(10)

Devoted in Death (In Death #41)(10)
J.D. Robb

“I have to believe Dorian would have done both. I’ve sent for a tox report, so we’ll see if any drugs were administered. I didn’t find any signs of stunner marks, pressure syringe.”

“Tranq him, he feels less. Where’s the fun in that?” She caught herself. “Sorry, Morris.”

“No need, thinking like the killer leads to finding him. The burn marks. I concur with your on-site. Some were caused by a cigarette, others by a tool. These, for instance.”

He fit on the goggles, as did Eve, and both leaned over the body. “Lower torso, abdomen, genitals, precise, from a narrow flame.”

“Hand torch. And the limbs, the hands. Those are wider, not precise. grinding out a smoke of some kind. The bruises here, along the rib cage. Not from fists.”

“More likely a sap. Used on the bottom of the feet as well. You see many of the cuts are shallow. Punctures, slices. At least two different blades used.”

“Punctures I’m looking at? Ice pick, or something similar.”

“And the slices, a jagged-edge blade, not smooth like the punctures.”

“Had himself a toolbox.”

“The more superficial wounds came first, along with the burns. Some are approximately two days old.”

“Just getting started. Don’t want him dead. Want the fear, the pain, the helplessness.”

“His fingers were broken over the two-day period, not all at once. And the right hand, these bones were crushed. The left were snapped.”

“Stomped on the right, or pounded with a tool, or dropped a heavy weight.”

“The second is my conclusion. A hammer, striking here, along the top ridge of the knuckles, repeatedly, and with force. Left hand first, right within the last twenty-four hours. The deeper cuts and punctures, also within the last twenty-four.”

“Increasing in severity over that twenty-four, working up to the kill.”

“Yes, but, Dallas, the killer treated some of the wounds.”

“What? How?”

“There were traces of what I’m sure the lab will identify as NuSkin or one of its derivatives. Some of the more severe wounds were treated to stop the blood flow, then opened again. And more than once, until the mortal slice along the abdomen.”

“It would take him a while to bleed out from that.”

“Even with the other injuries, the trauma, at least an hour. More likely two before the loss of blood would have taken him under, taken him away from the pain. Death would have taken longer still, but that, at least, would come gently.”

“Does he watch, does he record? The Groom recorded everything, his grand experiment. But this… it doesn’t feel as organized, as sickly scientific. Humiliate, torture, terrorize.”

She pulled the goggles off, took a hit from her tube of Pepsi, wandered as she tried to visualize.

“Organized enough to have a plan, to have tools, to have transportation and a place to work. But snapping the fingers of one hand, pulverizing the other, stubbing out a smoke on the limbs, hands, feet, using the tool on the torso and genitals. The sap. Ice pick, jagged blade. Naked. Ball gag. Is it a psychotic grab bag or… The heart? When did the killer carve the heart?”

“Postmortem, and that with a thin, smooth blade. Very precise, again.”

“Because it’s the signature. It’s pride or maybe… Maybe the D isn’t for Dorian. He didn’t matter. His pain, yes, the fun of torturing him, having him splayed out for entertainment, but who he was, his name? What if that didn’t matter a damn? If his mother’s right, no one who knew him could have done this to him. If no one who knew him did, his name meant nothing. But D and E, they’re important.”

“Carving the heart in him,” Morris murmured, “like lovers carve a heart and their initials into a tree.”

“Two of them?” Peabody hissed out a breath. “A couple?”

“It’s a theory. And it’s Mira territory. I need to run this by her, but it’s an interesting theory. They strip him, use a ball gag – a SMB tool, they strip him, burn his balls. But no sexual assault or activity? Because they have each other for that.”

“If this is valid, it would make what they did to him —”

“Foreplay,” Eve finished when Morris couldn’t.

Morris laid a hand on the shoulder of his dead friend. “I never ask, and shouldn’t now. But find them.”

No, he never asked, Eve thought. And she shouldn’t answer as she felt compelled to. “I will. You can bank on it.”

He’s sad again.” Peabody waited until they were outside. “The vic made him think of Coltraine, so he’s sad again.”

“He’ll get through it.” But Eve considered calling the priest, remembering Morris had found both comfort and friendship with Chale López. “We work the case, we get it done, and he’ll get through it faster.”

“Do you want me to see if I can schedule a meeting with Mira?”

“Yeah. We’re going into Central first. I want to get the book and board going, stew on this couple theory a little. Tell her I’ll send her a report.”

“Got it. You think this was random – I mean the choice of vic.”

“Can’t say. Right now we don’t even know where he was attacked, where he was snatched. We need to talk to friends and associates,” she continued as she drove through thickening snowfall. “Stick with the E’s first – we don’t throw out one theory for another. But start contacting them and arranging for them to come to us at Central. That way if Mira has a window, I can slip through it.”

Peabody fell silent and into work, then paused, frowned out the window at the snow. “I think it was a couple.”

“Because you think I think it was?”

“That made me see the maybe, but my first reaction was no. Just no, that’s too sick. Then – I’m going to say it before you do – we’ve seen sicker. A lot sicker. But it was the classic romance symbol of the heart that made me say no, then made me see the yes. They signed him – or one did for the other – not like a piece of art, but in a symbol of their twisted idea of love.”

Eve waited a beat. “Why does that piss you off?”

“Because I believe in symbols of love, goddamn it. There’s this big-ass tree back home. My dad carved his and Mom’s initials in it before any of us were born. And when we started coming along he built this circular bench all the way around it – gave it plenty of space between to grow more. And it has. It was so they could sit there, watching us play, and looking out over the gardens. And when each of us got to be about six, he helped us each build our own birdhouse, so there’s all these birdhouses hanging in the limbs, and wind chimes my mother made, and… It’s special, it’s really special, and it started when he carved that heart and their initials inside it. And…”

“Don’t blubber, Peabody,” Eve warned, hearing it coming.

“I’m not going to blubber. It’s just that when we went there for Christmas my parents took us both out there, to the tree, and my dad handed McNab his knife, and told him he should carve our initials in the tree. Because they know I love him, and he loves me, and they believe it’s the real, long-haul thing. It meant so much to me, just so much, because the tree, it’s special. It matters. Symbols matter, and they shouldn’t be used like this. That’s all.”

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