Home > Devoted in Death (In Death #41)(9)

Devoted in Death (In Death #41)(9)
J.D. Robb

The white tunnel echoed with their footsteps – the post-holiday, frozen-tundra lull, Eve thought. It wouldn’t last.

She caught Peabody eyeing the vending machine that offered hot drinks.

“You know everything in that thing is crap.”

“Yeah, but it’s snowing a little, and when it starts to snow I start thinking hot chocolate. Even though the strange brown liquid that machine pees out doesn’t bear much of a resemblance. Why can’t law-enforcement facilities get decent vending?”

“Because then we’d all be snuggled up with hot chocolate instead of doing the job.”

She pushed open the door to Morris’s domain.

She recognized opera – not which one, but identified the soaring tragedy in the voices, the mournful blend of instruments as some opera or other.

Morris stood over Dorian Kuper. A clear cape protected the chief ME’s plum-colored suit, and the fascinating high-planed face was unframed as he’d tied back his black hair in one of his complicated braids, twined it with silver cord.

Blood smeared his sealed hands. Kuper’s chest lay open from the Y incision.

“Giselle,” Morris said, glancing up as if seeing the music. “I was going to see it next week.”

“You’re into opera?”

“Some.” He stepped away to wash the blood and sealant from his hands. “I knew him.”

“The vic?” Eve’s thoughts shifted from Morris’s eclectic taste in music, zeroed in on connection. “Kuper? You knew Dorian Kuper?”

“Yes. He was a brilliant musician. Truly brilliant – not just his ability, which was striking, but his affinity. I’m sorry to have him in my house this way.”

“You were friends?”

“Very casually. He sometimes came into After Midnight – a blues club we both enjoyed. We jammed a number of times. Had a drink, talked music.”

Saxophone, Eve thought. Morris played a hell of a saxophone. “I’m sorry.”

“As am I. I took Amaryllis to a party at his apartment, just a few weeks before she was killed. It’s strange, isn’t it, how things link together?”

She saw the grief come over him, fresh after so many months, for the woman he’d loved.

He turned, reached into his friggie for a tube of Pepsi, the orange fizzy he knew Peabody preferred and a ginger ale for himself. He passed out the tubes, cracked his own.

“A drink to old friends,” he said.

“What can you tell me about him?”

“Personally? He had a large and eclectic group of friends if the party – and the various people who’d come with him to the clubs – is an accurate gauge. He and his mother adored each other – it showed. I’ve seen him with men and with women – in a romantic sense. That showed, too. He could play anything. You could hand him an instrument and he’d bring joy or tears from it.”

Morris drank, looked back at the body – the work to be done.

“I didn’t know him well, but I liked him.”

“Do you know of anyone named Tina in connection with him?”

“As I said, he had a large and… Tina?” Morris let out a quick laugh. “Earnest Tina.”

“That’s the one. You know her?”

“No, not at all. She came in one night – oh, before the holidays. Closer to the beginning of December, I think. I couldn’t settle one night, and took my sax, went into the club. He was there already, as were some others we both knew. She came in – a brunette, yes, an attractive brunette, took a table, looked very disapproving. He went over, talked to her for a short time. I thought, Lover’s quarrel, as she appeared very angry.”

He paused, took another drink as he narrowed his eyes. “Let me think back. He… Dorian put a hand over hers, as if to pat it, and she snatched it away. I can’t tell you what was said, but she did most of the talking, then – somewhat dramatically – stormed out. I do recall her parting shot: ‘I’ll never forgive you. Never.’ With tears in her eyes.

“Someone teased him when he came up to play again, about his angry girlfriend, and he said, No, not a girlfriend, not a friend. Earnest Tina, he said, and he didn’t go for too much earnest. Pissed because she thinks I’m slumming – that’s what he said, and laughed, and said, Let’s jam one for Earnest Tina.”

“No last name.”

“No.”

“Can you describe her?”

“Yes, I’m sure I can.”

“Well enough for Yancy?” she asked, referring to the police artist.

“I can certainly try if it helps in any way. The E in the heart. E and D inside the heart the killer carved in him.”

“There’s that. I don’t know if someone who takes themselves that seriously would use the initial from a sarcastic nickname, but maybe. I want to talk to her, so if Yancy can get a sketch close enough for us to run through facial recognition, we’d pin her down.”

“I’ll contact him myself, make arrangements.”

“Appreciate it.”

“All right.” Morris drew in air, turned back to the body. “That helped, oddly enough. Now, let’s talk about what was done to him.”

He picked up microgoggles for himself and Eve, understanding Peabody would happily skip the more up close and personal, and began.

“The blow on the back of the head, heavy, blunt object, from the shape of the wound, my conclusion is a wrench. A pipe wrench.”

“Plumber’s tool.”

“Yes, and easy to come by. This is the oldest injury. I haven’t finalized my reconstruction, but…” He ordered the image on screen, watched with Eve as the computer-generated figure of the victim was struck from behind by another.

“It reads the blow came from above and behind.”

“Driving down,” Eve noted, “from over the attacker’s head. So, yeah, yeah, the vic was bent or leaning over when struck. To pick something up, reach for something, tie his damn shoe, but angled down, exposed. He wasn’t killed in the alley.”

“From the crime scene images you sent, I agree.”

“Attacked, then transported somewhere so the killer could take some time with him. Attacked, put in a vehicle. Logically, attacked at or near the vehicle, dragged in. The first strike would have put the vic out, right?”

“Rendered unconscious, yes.”

“So, easy to restrain him.”

“Duct tape. I believe the lab will concur,” Morris told her. “Gummy residue in the wounds, wrists, ankles.”

“But not the mouth.”

“The wounds at the corners of the mouth were caused by rubbing and struggling against a strong, thin cord. Some silicone residue on the teeth and tongue.”

“Ball gag.”

“That’s my conclusion, yes.”

“Humiliation, sexual overtones. Was he raped?”

“There’s no evidence of sexual activity of any kind.”

“Okay.” Her hands slid into her pockets as she let the image play through her mind. “So he’s knocked out, restrained. He’d still be able to make sounds with that sort of gag, but nothing intelligible. But the killer would hear him try to scream or beg.”

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