A soft rain was falling as Eve parked in front of the house. It was nearly 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning and she paused for a moment to just look up at the house – at her home. When she first met Roarke, she thought the house was ridiculously large for just one person, but after living in it for the past two years, she had come to love it, even to crave the lovely oasis of peace and beauty she always found there. It wasn’t just home anymore. It was safety and warmth and love. It was sanctuary.
A fire was dying in the bedroom fireplace, spilling a soft golden glow across the carpet, and casting deep velvet shadows in the corners of the room. Eve quietly stripped off her weapon and harness, placed them on the dresser, and toed off her boots. Leaving a trail of clothes, she crossed the room and climbed the steps to the wide bed, where Galahad watched her with unblinking eyes. The room was silent save for the patter of rain against the sky window overhead and the crackle of the fire, and Eve paused for a moment, just looking. She rarely saw Roarke asleep, and her heart melted as she took in his black, tousled hair, thick dark eyelashes, and faint shadow of beard. He lay on his back, one arm flung out as if reaching for her. Except for the slow rise and fall of his chest, he was utterly still. She quietly lifted the covers and slid in beside him, snuggling up, craving his warmth, the feel of his silky skin against hers. His muscles bunched for an instant then relaxed and his arm went around her, drawing her close, drawing her home.
“Everything okay?” he murmured.
Eve thought of three small children, now in custody. Not the best solution, but at least they’d be sheltered, cared for, and protected. “Yes, everything’s okay now,” she replied and, finally relaxing, slid into sleep.
When Eve woke up five hours later, Roarke was in the sitting room, dressed in jeans and a black tee shirt, eating breakfast while a Sunday morning business report played on screen. He watched as she sat up groggily, hair sticking out in disarray and knuckled her eyes like a child. He loved watching her wake up in the morning, the way she was so disoriented and dazed, not coming fully awake until she stumbled into the shower. When he heard her croak “Shower on, one oh one degrees”, he rose to pour a cup of coffee for her. He carried it into the bathroom, set it on the ledge by the shower. A soapy, dripping hand reached out and pulled the cup into the billowing clouds of steam. “Thanks”, she muttered.
“You’re welcome.” He smiled, strolled back to the sitting area and ordered up breakfast for her from the auto chef.
Eve emerged from the bathroom naked, alert and clear-eyed, skin still rosy from the drying tube, and headed for the dresser. She paused while rummaging for underwear, and held up a tiny, nearly transparent black silk triangle with a couple of thin black ribbons dangling from it. “Why do you buy stuff like this for me? Does shopping for women’s underwear give you some sort of sick thrill?”
He grinned and shrugged. “Can’t help it. I’m a slave to my testosterone.”
She dropped the little scrap – it scarcely qualified to be called ‘panties’ – back into the drawer, pulled out some plain white cotton briefs and wiggled into them.
“Maybe you’ll wear them for me after I tell you about Summerset.”
“You’ll have to say he’s dead before I wear that.”
“Not dead, but he is gone. For at least two weeks, maybe more.”
“No shit?” Eve’s eyes sparkled. “Why? How come? Where’d he go? Oh wait, don’t tell me – he disappeared in a black puff of smoke, right?”
“Wrong. Eve, I didn’t get a chance to tell you yet, but our house on the island took a major hit when Hurricane George blew through on Friday. I got the call late last night. Apparently a big chunk of the roof was torn off, and everything inside was either damaged or destroyed. The good news – at least, I’m sure you will consider it good – is that I’ve sent Summerset to the island to oversee the repairs. He left around 1:00 this morning.”
“He’s already gone? For two weeks?” Eve yanked off the white panties, yanked on the little black triangle and did a quick shimmy. “You are about to have the best sex you’ve ever had in your life!”
And she proceeded to follow through on the promise.
Two hours later, she drove away from the house, leaving her smug, sleepy-eyed husband behind as she headed for cop central. She filed the previous night’s report and then headed down to the forensics lab.
Because it was Sunday, Dickie Berenski was not in, but one of his assistants was there. Eve had worked with Sandra Robinson before, and appreciated her thoroughness as well as her easy-going personality. She was a petite, pretty woman, mid-twenties with dark chocolate skin and sharp, observant brown eyes. Eve admired the woman’s Afro-styled hair and her neat, tidy style of dressing.
“What do you have for me, Sandra?” she asked. “I’m handling the Joseph Miller homicide.”
“Oooh, that one was great! He had the most fascinating jacket! I had a lot of fun with it.” Sandra’s eyes sparkled. “You’re going to love this. His jacket has FOUR different types of blood on it.”
“Four! No shit?”
“No shit. One of them, of course, belonged to the victim. Two of the other types belonged to two different men. And the fourth type belonged to a woman.”
Eve sat on one of the high stools. “Well damn! Which of those people were bad guys? All of them? None of them? Only one or two? Did you run the blood samples against the NYPSD database?”
“Yes I did, but there were no hits. I also ran them against IRCCA’s international database, and still no its. Those people don’t have records, Dallas – they’re all clean.”
“Doesn’t mean they’re all innocent. Maybe they just haven’t been caught yet.” She sighed. “Did you get anything else?”
“Yes and no. The baseball bat left on scene was wiped clean of fingerprints. The only blood on it belonged to the viction. But the stolen credit cards – you know about those?”
“Each one with a different name.”
“Exactly. Well, I ran the names, and I think you’ll be interested to learn that one of those names belongs to a DB that is currently down in the morgue. Noah Hornbocker. He was brought in late Friday afternoon.”
Eve stood abruptly. “No shit!?”
“Nope. His case is being handled by Detective Robinson, over in Brooklyn.”
Eve grinned. “If I went for girls, Sandra, I’d give you a big kiss! Thanks!”
“Glad to help,” she smiled.
Eve returned to her office and hunted through the NYPSD database, until she found the police report about Noah Hornbocker. It had been filed by one Detective Robinson from the main Brooklyn precinct. She pulled it up, began reading. On Friday afternoon, police had received an anonymous 911 call reporting a disturbance at the Hornbocker residence. When police arrived, they found the back door kicked in and the house ransacked. Noah was found dead in the living room. He had been severely beaten and repeatedly stabbed. His wife, Agnes, was found on the kitchen floor, alive but unconscious. She, too, had been beaten and stabbed, and apparently left for dead by the attacker. No weapon was found on scene. Agnes was transported to hospital, where she still remained, in critical condition. It was assumed that robbery had been the motive, as several expensive items had been taken, along with all their credit cards.
Eve sat back in her chair and considered. Maybe the incident was the big job that Joe Miller had told Gloria about. Did somebody hire him? But why? And did they want the Hornbockers killed, or did they want something that was in their house, and the Hornbockers simply came home at the wrong moment? Was it both? She was willing to bet that Agnes Hornbocker’s blood would match the woman’s blood that Sandra found on the jacket. If so, then she only had to identify who the fourth person was. Another victim? Or was he the person who killed Joe? And was the person who killed Joe the same person who had hired him in the first place? She picked up her ‘link and called Detective Robinson in the 77th Brooklyn precinct. He wasn’t in, but the duty sergeant told her he was expected shortly, so Eve grabbed her jacket and headed down to her vehicle, to drive to Brooklyn.
Detective Robinson was a big burly man with gray eyes and salt & pepper hair. He wore a rumpled blue suit and simple white shirt and tie. His eyes were classic cop, sharp and accessing, but he smiled as he shook Eve’s hand. “Lieutenant Dallas,” he said. “I got your message, and I have the Hornbocker case right here. I already made a copy of everything we have,” he added, handing her a disc.
“Thanks,” Eve said, taking the disc and putting it in her bag. “I caught a case late Saturday night, and think that the victim in my case might be the guy who killed the victim in your case.” She related the details of what she had found, then asked “I’d like very much to investigate your case – would you consider letting me take it?”
Detective Robinson laughed. “Hell, you can take as many of my cases as you want! But would you keep me posted? From what the neighbors said, the Hornbockers were nice people. Nobody can understand why they were targeted for the break-in.”
“Maybe the object was to kill the Hornbockers, and stealing stuff was just a little bonus.”
“Thought of that, but I can’t think of any reason why the Hornbockers would be targeted for a kill. From all I’ve heard, they were quiet people, on good terms with their neighbors. Noah was an accountant at Starline Publishing.
An alarm went off in Eve’s head, but she let nothing show. “Well, maybe something will turn up. I’ll keep you in the loop – and thanks. By the way, what hospital is Agnes Hornbocker in?”
“County General. She’s still in serious condition, but they’ve stabilized her, and the doctors might be willing to let you talk to her.”
Eve went down to her car, unlocked it and climbed in. She pulled out her PPC and looked at her list of Roarke’s various companies, subsidiaries, and holdings. Sure enough, Starline Publishing was a branch of Starline Inc, which was owned by Roarke Industries. Sighing, she pulled out her link and called Roarke.
“Noah Hornbocker,” she said when his face appeared on screen. “Did you know him?”
“No. Why?” But he already knew.
“He’s dead. He worked as an accountant for Starline Publishing. Somebody broke into his house, killed him, and assaulted his wife.”
“Where are you?”
“At the moment, I’m in Brooklyn, but I’m headed for County General Hospital to visit his wife.”
“I’ll meet you there.”
“Roarke, no, I’m – “ But he had already clicked off.
“Dammit!” Eve smacked the steering wheel and shoved the ‘link back in her pocket. She was tempted to call the hospital and have him blocked from seeing Agnes Hornbocker, but knew Roarke would have no trouble sidestepping hospital security. At least she could get to the hospital before he did. Peeling away from the curb, she punched the button that engaged her siren and emergency lights, and sped towards the hospital.
“Agnes Hornbocker. Where is she?” Eve demanded at the hospital’s front desk, flashing her badge.
“One moment, please,” the receptionist replied, and keyed the name in on her computer. “Mrs Hornbocker has been moved out of ICU and is in room 408 on the fourth floor.”
“Thanks.” Eve took the elevator to the fourth floor and headed for the nurse’s station. “I’m looking for Agnes Hornbocker,” she said, again flashing her badge.
A shapely brunette dressed in a pink scrubs glanced briefly at Eve’s badge. “You’ll need to speak to Doctor Lee before you can see Mrs. Hornbocker,” she said cooly.
“Fine, where is he?”
“Doctor Ellen Lee is making her rounds, but should be back in another hour.”
Eve didn’t bother to reply. She simply started down the hall, checking room numbers while the nurse ran after her. She caught up just as Eve reached room 408. “You can’t go in there,” she hissed, grabbing Eve’s arm.
Eve looked at the hand gripping her arm, and her eyes bored into the nurse’s. “Move your hand or I’ll haul you downtown for obstruction,” she said, and the nurse yanked her hand away.
“Fine!” she hissed. “But I’m notifying Doctor Lee!”
“You do that!” Eve shot back, and pushed open the door to room 408 – only to have what felt like a brick slam directly into her face, sending her stumbling back, blood spurting from her nose while her head rapped smartly against the opposite wall. She staggered but managed to stay upright as the blurred figure of a man shoved past her, headed for the stairs. “Son of a bitch!” she muttered, and lurched after him, fumbling for her weapon while trying to staunch the blood streaming from her nose. She got only ten feet before the door of the next room opened suddenly and a nurse pushing an old woman in a wheel chair stepped out into the hall. Eve collided with the wheel chair, sending it – and its passenger – careening sideways down the hall while Eve went down hard, cursing as her head hit the floor and the world exploded into brilliant stars, then went black.
“Hold still.” Roarke’s voice was right next to her ear.
Eve opened her eyes, tried to focus. “Where are we?” she asked woozily.
“County General Hospital. We’re just visiting, so you won’t have to stay here – although the MT’s feel neglected if you don’t see them at least once a month.”
Eve realized she was sitting on Roarke’s lap – and that he was holding her head tilted back against his chest while an MT ran a suture wand along her left eyebrow. She tried to turn her head to look around, but Roarke tightened his grip. “Let the nice MT finish his job,” he said, “and then we can go home.”
“Apparently somebody was trying to finish Agnes Hornbocker off when you started to walk into her room. He punched you in the face and took off. Agnes is lucky to be alive, and you’re lucky he didn’t break your nose.”
“Feels like he succeeded,” she muttered. She reached up to touch it and felt a big wad of bandages taped to her face before Roarke slapped her hand away. “Crap. I bet I’ll end up with two black eyes.” She paused, trying to remember. Her head felt like it was about to split open. “Did I run into an old lady in a wheelchair?”
“You did, yes, just as I was stepping off the elevator. It was quite a spectacle! The old lady who was in the wheelchair is fine, and thrilled to have an exciting story to tell her grandchildren.”
“Good to know. Did anybody catch the guy who was trying to kill Agnes? Did he show up on any of the security cameras?”
“He got away. I imagine you’ll see him on the surveillance videos, but from all accounts, he was smart enough to keep his shoulders hunched and his head tucked way down. I’ve already asked for a copy of the discs. You can review them when we get home.”
“I’m not going home yet.”
“Yes, you are,” he said firmly. “We can fight about it later,” he said when she started to protest. “But right now I need to arrange to have Agnes Hornbocker transferred to a private hospital. She’s pretty shaken up.”
“Shit. I forgot about her. Is she conscious? Maybe I could talk to her while you’re doing whatever you need to do to get her transferred.”
“That’s up to Dr. Lee. She’s examining her right now.”
“The examination is finished.” A lovely Asian woman in green scrubs stood in the doorway. “Mrs. Hornbocker can be interviewed, but you’ll need to keep it short.”
Eve glanced at the MT. “Are you done?”
When he nodded, Eve slid from Roarke’s lap and headed for Agnes Hornbocker’s room, leaving Roarke to deal with doctors and paperwork.
Agnes was lying with her eyes closed, the TV volume turned down low. Various tubes and wires ran from her body to a crowded assortment of hanging bottles filled with liquids and machines that beeped and hummed. Her face was swollen and battered; her arms bruised and bandaged. Eve tapped lightly on the door as she came in, and Agnes opened her eyes.
“Mrs. Hornbocker, I’m Lieutenant Eve Dallas of NYPSD homicide department.”
The woman’s eyes filled with tears at the word “homicide”, but she blinked them away. “You’re here to talk about Noah?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am, if you think you’re up to it.”
“I already spoke to that other police officer.”
“Yes, I know,” Eve said, taking a seat next to the bed. “But I think your case ties in with one that I’ve been investigating, so Detective Robinson has agreed to let me take your case as well.”
“They say that somebody came in here; they think he wanted to hurt me.”
“Yes, ma’am. That’s one of the reasons we’re having you transferred to a private facility. You’re going to have round-the-clock security until we get this matter resolved.”
“None of this makes any sense! I don’t know anything. Detective Robinson kept asking me if I knew why someone might have wanted Noah dead, but there isn’t anybody. He was a good man, everybody liked Noah!”
“Do you know if he had any problems at work?”
“No, and he would have told me. We always told each other everything! Lieutenant Dallas, we were married for forty years. We celebrated our fortieth wedding anniversary just last Tuesday at a fancy restaurant. If anything was wrong, he would have - ” she broke off, suddenly thoughtful. “Our wedding anniversary,” she murmured, half to herself. “He took me to the Grand Regency Hotel. We had champagne. He told me to buy a new dress for the occasion, and I did. It’s such a pretty dress, all silk and lace. Noah said I looked just like I did on our wedding day. It was a lie, of course, but he said things like that. He always made me feel pretty, and special.”
“Did something happen while you were at the hotel?”
“Noooo,” she said slowly, dragging the word out. “But – well, while we were talking, he suddenly focused on something behind me, and he got this funny look on his face…”
“Like he was seeing something that wasn’t quite right. I looked around, but everything seemed fine to me. When I asked him about it, he said it was nothing. But he looked kind of preoccupied after that. And then he shrugged it off and ordered more champagne.”
“You never found out what he meant? About something not being quite right?”
“No, I never did. But you know, now that I think of it, I think something was bothering him. I don’t know what it was, but he seemed kind of thoughtful after that.”
“Can you think of anything else? Anything that was out of the ordinary?”
“No, not at all.” Her eyes filled with tears. “Everything was just like it always was. And now he’s gone.” She began weeping, and Eve was relieved when Doctor Lee came into the room and told Eve to leave.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Mrs. Hornbocker,” Eve said, and left the room.
Roarke was waiting for her in the hall. “They’re about to transport her to Fair Meadows Hospital in the Hamptons,” he told Eve. It’s a small but very well equipped hospital, and as of now, she has two bodyguards who will watch over her 24/7 – at least until her husband’s killers are apprehended.”
“Sounds good,” Eve said. “Roarke, you still own the Grand Regency Hotel, right?”
“Yes, I do. Why, are you hungry? We can have dinner there, but people will probably stare at you.”
“Your face, darling. It’s pretty thoroughly bashed.”
“Oh. Yeah. Shit. Mrs. Hornbocker thinks her husband saw something hinky when they were there last Tuesday night, and I want to look at the security disks.”
“I’ll have the data on them transmitted to your home office.”
When they arrived home, Eve headed for the bathroom, where she stripped off her clothes and examined her face in the bathroom mirror. She tugged off the bandage taped across her nose, pleased that the bleeding had stopped. She tossed the bandage in the trash and took a closer look at her face. As she had feared, she was developing two black eyes that would, no doubt, be quite impressive by morning. The rest of her body ached, too. She took a hot shower and felt almost human when she emerged. Dressed in loose-fitting clothes, she headed for her home office and booted up her computer.
As Roarke had promised, the security videos from the Grand Regency were there. She started running them, fast-forwarding to the portion where Noah and Agnes Hornbocker appeared. The smiling maître d’ escorted them to their table, fussed over them, and went away, while a waiter bustled up. Eve watched as the waiter took their orders, and went away. Agnes and Noah were both smiling, both gazing at each other affectionately. Eve speeded up the video a bit, watched as their meals arrived, watched as they leisurely enjoyed their dinner. While they ate their desserts, she saw Noah suddenly stiffen, his eyes focused over Agnes’s shoulder. Following his line of sight, Eve examined the other diners. It took her only a moment to spot Roarke’s vice president, Stephen Courtney, seated five tables away. He was facing the camera. To his right was a man who Eve recognized as another of Roarke’s vice presidents. It looked like a business dinner. Each man had a brief case, and each one had their PPC, apparently taking notes. She slowed the video down, trying to decide whether she knew the third man at the table – the one who had his back to the camera. He seemed to be the one in charge, the one that the two other men deferred to. When the man turned to glance over at Noah, Eve froze the video and got a good look at his profile.
“Son of a bitch!” she muttered. “Shit!!”
There was no reason – no reason at all - for those two executives to be having a business dinner with Marco Angelini. Marco Angelini – whose son, David, was Anna Whitney’s godchild. Eve had interrogated both Marco and David two years ago. She had never believed Marco was the killer, but circumstantial evidence had suggested David might be the guilty party and in a clumsy attempt to save his son, Marco had confessed. In the end, they had both been cleared. But the incident soured relations between Marco and Roarke, and they had severed all personal and business relationships. So what the hell was this dinner all about?