Saturday night, November 21st
Kevin nodded at Linda Claremont as he walked past her desk. He had a doughnut stuck in his mouth, a cup of coffee in one hand, his business jacket hooked on a finger of the other, the Times tucked under his arm. He stepped into his office but before he even had a chance to sit down, Linda, who had followed him into the closet-sized office, laid a folder on his desk with a decisive slap.
"His name was Dave Kaczynski."
Kevin raised his arm and let the newspaper slide onto his desk. He draped his jacket over the back of his chair, set down the coffee, which had grown hot in his hand despite the cardboard sleeve around the cup, and took a bite from the doughnut before removing it from his mouth.
"Remember the packet of cocaine that was found on her body?"
Contrary to Kevin, Linda didn't seem to need much sleep - if any at all – and, where he relied on coffee every day to keep him functioning, she regularly worked through the late evenings without so much as a yawn or smudge under her eyes. To top it off she managed to look like a fresh spring morning while he felt like something filthy, chewed out and beginning to smell.
Kevin shook his head. He knew the lack of sleep was beginning to get to him the moment he started to think of his partner in terms of weather conditions.
"Yeah," he replied and tried very hard not to feel annoyed that she didn't need caffeine to function.
"Well... I had a hunch, let's say, and asked Bobbie to dust it for fingerprints."
"You got a match?"
"He managed to lift a whole fingerprint. I ran it through the system and what do you know...? Turns out, the fingerprint belongs to a repeat offender so I came up with his ID in a matter of minutes."
Kevin let out an appreciative whistle. "Who is he?"
"Originally from Austin, Texas, over the last dozen years he's gradually worked his way up the East Coast, spending time in various jails for petty stuff until a couple of years ago he got brave and expanded into armed robbery in New Jersey. He was released on parole three months ago. His parole officer hadn't heard from him in two."
"My, my, you've been busy."
Linda perched a slim hip on the corner of his desk, watching him as he leaned back in his chair, propped up a boot on the desk and crossed his legs at the ankles. Apparently comfortable, he swallowed the doughnut in two bites and washed it down with coffee. Her patience stretching, Linda raised a single eyebrow at him.
"There's one thing that's been nagging me from the beginning though," Kevin finally said on a weary sigh.
As usual, he was already several steps ahead with his cynical mind, working the angles most cops overlooked, or just plain didn't care to see. There were several reasons, but the most important one was that most of these angles ended in dead ends and that made the several days, if not weeks, worth of effort prove a huge waste of time that cops with families or girlfriends, or a social life, Kevin thought sourly, didn't have. He brushed the thought aside and steepled his hands. "How could anyone, even a dumb guy like him, be stupid enough not to wear gloves when planting evidence?"
"Maybe he wasn't planting evidence," said Claremont, who knew him and therefore knew it would be an equally big waste of time to argue about the sense of pursuing dead ends. Quickest way was to go along and play his little game. "Why would he be if he was going to kill her anyway? Maybe he really tried to rob her."
Kevin raised his eyebrows. "You think it was a robbery?"
"The guy's been busted for drugs too many times to count. It wouldn't be too farfetched to think he was looking for a fix. This is Brooklyn we're talking about. We're in the middle of the city here. Guy needs a fix, hasn't got any money on him, sees a hooker walking down the street. What are the odds she's carrying something?"
"Pretty damn good. He tries to rob her but seeing as he's not the sharpest tool in the shed she manages to struggle out of his grasp, which earns her a broken jaw in return. He drags her into a dark alley and in the fight she loses a shoe and scratches his face – which means it's probable he wasn't wearing a ski mask. By then Dave's panicking. This isn't going the way he had planned. He loses his cool but is just smart enough to realise that he's blown his cover and would be better off killing her. So he shoots her and then goes in search of the drugs."
"It still doesn't explain why he left it on her with his prints all over the place."
"Not all over the place," Linda corrected. "Just the plastic bag of cocaine, and we still need a DNA sample to match the skin tissue found under Tania's fingernails."
"So, you're saying it was a spur of the moment robbery gone sour? It still doesn't ring quite right, Claremont. You're saying he assaulted her for drugs but left four grams of it and eighty dollars behind."
"Maybe someone heard them and came investigating?"
Kevin snorted. "Here? In this part of Brooklyn?"
"Maybe he was interrupted by a witness and made a run for it. Maybe she had more on her and he left the one packet by mistake. If he found one he might not have been counting on her carrying any more. It makes sense."
"The line between speculation and fact is beginning to get thinner and murkier, Claremont." His reproach was light, but she felt it keenly. He looked very intently at her for a moment, then said, "But suppose you're right. Dave's knocked her down and is searching her for drugs. Why does he leave a packet behind? The fingerprint says he had it in his hand so he couldn't have overlooked it. The thing was stuffed down her bra, right? How do you explain that? Look like robbery to you?"
Claremont gave him a measured look. "Dave was picked up for petty stuff. That's a long way from murder, Kevin."
Kevin glanced up, the look in his eyes slightly surprised.
Linda shifted, cleared her throat, looking away now she quickly continued, "He could have panicked, done something stupid. Hell, maybe he's out there, hiding in some damp little basement feeling sorry for himself and blaming the universe for giving him a shitload of bad luck."
Kevin rubbed two fingers over his lips as he thought. "The guy is on parole. You'd think he'd wait the extra two months before going off on a killing spree and risking getting locked up for life."
Linda shrugged. "Maybe he got an offer he couldn't refuse."
Their gazes met and held for a long moment. It was apparent that Linda wanted to say something but was struggling with it. Just when it seemed like she was going to open her mouth, Kevin shook his head, mind already back on the case.
It was impossible to rationalise the actions of criminals with an IQ rivalling that of a guinea pig. Everything was possible. Trying gave him a headache, so he sighed, dropped the file back on his desk and levelled his gaze on Linda. His voice was quiet when he said, "You get a whole fingerprint off a packet of cocaine that has been left on the body, which is, you have to admit, extremely sloppy for a guy who's supposedly robbing the girl. Then it turns out this fingerprint is a match to a repeat offender. It's like we're getting our crime solved and handed to us on a silver platter."
"You can add a pretty pink bow to that. We have a lead on where Dave is and that's right here smack in the middle of New York. Nice coincidence for a guy hailing all the way from Austin."
Kevin frowned. "I thought you said he worked his way up the East Coast."
"Yes, but he was stuck in jail back in Austin. Now the question is, why would he come all the way back here?"
"We've got a break-in."
Linda turned from her perch on the desk's corner to find Bob Wilder had stuck his head around the doorframe.
He was roughly fifteen pounds overweight, wore a crisp white shirt half a size too small and black pants with a leather belt cinched so tightly his belly spilled over the top. Since the day Linda Claremont had joined this department six years ago she couldn't remember him once looking any different. To be fair, she hadn't noticed him all that much. His head was round and pale with cheeks rosy from the exertion of walking up two flights of stairs (the elevator was down), his eyes were round like his glasses, the dirty blonde hair combed tightly over his scalp. He looked like a sausage, Linda often thought, but he was a nice man and though infamous for his lack of personal discipline when it came to exercise or dieting, he was always there with a helping hand when needed. Like today. "There was a break-in reported," he said now, puffing slightly.
Kevin looked at him, waiting for him to elaborate, when Linda realised that Bob was still waiting for the go ahead. She forced a smile to her face. "Where?"
"Abbey Lynn. The case you're working on. She reported a break-in. I thought you might want to know."
"When?" Kevin had already risen to his feet and was pulling on his jacket, coffee forgotten. A scowl darkened his face. "McKenna?" he asked, referring to Brian McKenna, his colleague and personal thorn in the eye.
"Yeah. He and Martin took the call." Bob stepped back to allow Linda room to pass through the doorway, his eyes tracking her as she went by. Kevin had to repeat his first question to get his attention back on track. "Err... about twenty minutes ago."
Following Linda, his long legs eating up the ground twice as fast, he caught up with her in no time. "Thanks, Bob." He called over his shoulder and disappeared down the stairs.
"Yeah..." Bob murmured to the now empty office. "No problem."
It seemed like forever when the police finally arrived, lights flashing, car doors slamming. Jesse, not knowing exactly what had happened but assured by Matthew that it was all okay was instantly fascinated by the walkie-talkies the policemen had strapped to their belts. They would occasionally emit strange words and numbers in between the crackle, and one of the officers even let him push a button while he spoke. Abbey felt grateful for his distraction. She wouldn't be able to handle him afraid.
She sat through the questions, answered them as best she could while Jesse played with a walkie-talkie and Matthew stood by her side. Her door had been locked, the windows closed, the lights off. No one had access to this apartment except for Lenny Lawson, the landlord. There had been nothing of value inside. No cash, no expensive jewelry, electronic equipment or heirlooms. She hadn't told anyone that she was leaving, and when the police officers questioned her about that, she just blanked. Thankfully, Matthew had jumped in and told them that she was moving into a new apartment at the hotel tomorrow. Finally, the officer told her to go spend the night at her new apartment or, if it was possible, stay with a friend or relative for a while. They would contact her if there was any news.
Abbey didn't think any of the information she had given them could be particularly helpful in finding the burglar. Nothing was stolen as far as she could tell, and although the police had been meticulous, going over everything, it seemed that their attempts were half-hearted too, like they expected to find nothing. It made her feel helpless and alone. A coldness settled in her bones.
"Now what?" she asked, wondering if things could get any worse.
Matthew said, "I'm taking you home with me."
She opened her mouth, but he just raised his hand, interrupting her, his tone harsh. "Don't argue with me. I'm not in the mood." There was a distinct frown on his face.
"I was going to say thank you."
He looked surprised, but did not speak. Instead, he put his arm around her shoulders, drawing her into his warmth. She felt instantly better.
The elevator ride up to the twenty-fifth floor was silent. It was past Jesse's bedtime, and he was leaning on Abbey, stumbling along with his eyes closed, asleep for all intents and purposes the way only a five year old can be. She would have picked him up, but he was getting heavier, and after the night she'd just had, she was afraid she would just drop him. Matthew opened the front door with a magnetic card and separate key, and showed her to the guest bedroom. Abbey helped Jesse peel off his coat and sweater, and when he just hung his head on her shoulder while she undid his laces, she decided to forgo brushing his teeth, and just tucked him under the covers. Mechanically, she folded his clothes and put away his things on the chair beside the nightstand. Glancing back, she saw that he was already fast asleep. An overwhelming feeling came over her that she couldn't identify, and she crawled into bed beside him, brushing away the tufts of hair that ruffled every time he breathed out. This was her little baby. Something she had made, was responsible for and proud of. He was part of her, and the only thing in her life that wasn't a mistake, or laced with the bittersweet taste of failure. She couldn't imagine life without his incessant questions, his blatant disregard for her rules that wasn't so much disobedience as an insatiable curiosity.
A creak from the hallway made her start. Matthew was standing in the doorway. His suit jacket was gone, and the top buttons of his shirt were undone, and he was shoeless. His shirt was wrinkled, his hair untidy and the look in his eyes positively heartbreaking.
Silently she rose from the bed, feeling the waves of despair washing over her as she neared him, not sure whether they came from him or her. It didn't matter though, because a stronger emotion overtook her, the need to be close to him, to have him draw her into that warm crook inside his shoulder. She needed to feel that strength, the knowing that there was someone she could lean on if the need arose.
And when he simply opened his arms, and engulfed her in his smell, offering comfort and not wanting anything in return, she was undone. She turned up to him and kissed him. Slowly at first, then more deeply, almost angrily. He returned her passion, sliding his hands down her sides until they cupped her butt, splaying his fingers around them. He lifted her up from the ground and carried her to his bedroom.
In the glow of the moonlight she could see Matthew sprawled on his stomach beside her. His face was turned away on the pillow. The pale blue silk sheet draped carelessly across his lower body. He looked strong and mysterious and very male lying there beside her. She wondered if this was really happening and not just some kind of dream her overactive imagination had conjured up. Whatever it was, it was one hell of a fantasy to come true.
She stroked the sleek line of his tanned back, enjoying the heat and power he exuded even in his sleep.
"Just wondering…" she whispered, "thinking about stuff."
He rolled over onto his back and folded his arms behind his head. An impish twist tugged on his lips. "Do I want to know what kind of stuff?"
"Just… you know. Things."
"Those things wouldn't by any chance have anything to do with how to sneak out while I'm asleep, would they?"
She slanted him a dangerous look. "No."
He exhaled deeply. "Not that you would tell me if you were thinking about it." He sounded grimly resigned.
"No," she confessed, looking indulgently at him as she trailed a hand over his chest. "But if it makes you feel any better, I wouldn't lie to you by saying I don't like waking up next to you."
"You do, huh?" He paused, looking reflective. Then he smiled and Abbey felt something give inside her chest. "Now there's something we can work with."
She felt her lips quirking up at the corners and tried to suppress the smile she knew was stealing over her face. She loved how he could make her feel better just by cracking a tasteless joke, make her feel as if he was lifting off part of the weight of worry that she was carrying around on her shoulders all the time. It made her love him even – she deliberately squashed that thought, sought to give it different meaning. Lust, affection, nothing more. It was a typical case of prince charming coming to the rescue of the damsel in distress, except in real life he married the princes and not some peasant girl. Keep it light, keep it simple, and she might just make it out with her heart in one piece.
"Work, work, work," she teased. "Do you ever think about anything else?"
His smile turned positively lecherous. "I sure do."
Abbey resisted the urge to giggle. She arched her eyebrow. "Has anyone ever told you that you may have developed some kind of obsession with… work?"
"It has been said," he admitted slowly.
"All work and no play…" She brushed her mouth lightly across his. "That must get a bit boring."
"You have no idea."
"What are you going to do about it?"
He smiled slowly, put an arm around her waist and tumbled her down across his chest. "I think I know just the thing."
He cupped the back of her head while his other hand trailed down her curves to rest on her butt. Slowly he lowered her mouth to his.
"And you're just the person to help me out."
"Again," she sighed against his lips.
"Again," he echoed, before he effectively shut her up.
Afterward he lay down beside her. She curled up against him like a child, a gesture he found surprisingly sweet. He watched her sleep, thirty minutes, then an hour. He couldn't stop touching her – a hand through her hair, fingertips over her neck, a stroke over the curve of her shoulder.
He'd never felt compelled to stay with a woman after sex. Had never felt the need to just look at her while she slept, or to touch only for the sake of touching and not to arouse.
He wondered what odd and slippery path they were on.
Then she stirred, sighed, and her eyes fluttered open and focused on him. When she smiled, his heart quite simply turned over in his chest.
"What?" she asked finally, her voice sleepy.
He flattened his hand on her ribcage, eyes following his palm as it trailed a lazy path down to her waist. "You were talking in your sleep."
"I was not. I don't talk in my sleep." She looked so indignant he couldn't help but laugh. "Do I?"
"Well, maybe you mumbled a bit."
"Was it very embarrassing?"
"Don't worry." He dropped a kiss on her lips. "You look cute when you're mumbling in your sleep."
"I must have been dreaming."
She looked up inquiringly.
"It's the only word I could make out," he explained. "Jesse."
She smiled, remembering the dream. "Hmm."
"You want to tell me where you were heading?"
"What do you mean?"
His hand travelled back up her side, where it settled on her breast. "The reason why you were all packed."
"Oh, that. My mother." It felt funny to say it out loud, almost as if she were talking about someone other than herself. "I was planning on visiting my mother."
His brows drew together as he stared at her feet with an odd intensity. "I usually pack up my dishes too – when I visit family."
It was her turn to frown at him. "There's no need to get so snarky about it. It's not like I have to get permission from you to live my life just because you sign my pay check."
He withdrew his hand. "So we're back to that now. I forgot how I'm doing this all in the name of charity. Good of you to remind me, lest for a minute I forget." His voice was cold and clipped, the testiness unmistakable.
What a moody bastard, she thought. It pissed her off, but she didn't want to fight with him, so she tried to explain in the most reasonable tone she could manage at the moment, "Look – it's not easy for me to explain my reasons to you or anyone else. I'm a single mom, have been for a long time. I'm used to doing things on my own and not having to account for them to anyone. I hate being dependant and feeling that if I don't explain myself I'm risking my job."
His expression turned thunderous. "So you're here, warming my sheets because you feel obligated to do so in order to keep your job? You know what that makes you, don't you?"
"Goddamn it!" she burst out, anger and hurt waging for the upper hand. His comment stung. It cut something deep inside her she hadn't realized was there. Now she could feel it bleeding, hurting. Yet she couldn't let him know that, because then he'd surely figure out how deep her feeling for him went. "You know that's not why I'm here. But if that's what you think–" she broke off, turning her back to him and moving as if to gather her things. She didn't want him to see the tears that were pooling in her eyes, so she pretended to search for her clothes.
His hand closed around her arm before she could slide out of bed. "It's not what I think," he told her softly, to her back. "Forget what I said, I'm on a short fuse lately."
"It's okay," she replied, when she was confident all traces of any tears were gone from her face, and her voice. She added ruefully, "You're not the only one."
"I apologise for the comment. It was in very bad taste."
Abbey nodded, tugging the sheet up over her breasts and clinging to them almost desperately in order to gather some courage before she spoke. She was desperate to change the subject and focus on something other than her rapidly escalating feelings. "So you want to know where I was heading?"
"If you want to tell me."
She nodded again, took a steadying breath. "I was going to visit my mother. I wasn't planning on coming back to New York however. Other than heading out to South Dakota and seeing if I could settle down there, I didn't really have a plan – which sounds, when I say it out loud like this, pretty stupid, I know."
"How is wanting a different life stupid?" He moved behind her, wrapped his arms around her cold shoulders. She relaxed enough to lean back against him. "It takes guts to take a risk like that."
"I don't know my mother," she admitted. "I was adopted as a baby. I've never actually met my biological mother. Lately I've been thinking that I'd like to know her. I would like Jesse to have someone in his life other than me, and that's all the motivation I need really."
"You're a good mother."
She took his hand in hers, weaved their fingers together. "I'm sorry about your father." He squeezed her hand in response. "It must be a difficult time for you."
It was while before he spoke. "We were never that close. I was raised by nannies and teachers at boarding school, and then I went away to college. When I came home for the holidays, he was always too busy running the hotel to participate in the day to day family life. I don't resent him for it. He wasn't a bad father, he just wasn't there most of the time." After a moment he added, "I think there's more to his death."
"What do you mean?"
"I just have this feeling that there's something fishy about the way he died."
"How did he die?"
"A heart attack, which is completely normal at his age. It's not something I can explain. It's just a feeling I have." Then he shrugged. "Maybe I just don't want to accept that we will never be able to make up for lost times."
She didn't know what to say to that. Surely she was the last person to be giving advice on family matters.
"That's exactly what a therapist would say anyway," he joked.
Abbey glanced up at him. "You see a therapist?"
He looked at her. "Several times a week," he deadpanned.
And laughed. "As a friend, who just happens to be a therapist. I don't lie on a couch, talking about my feelings. Not unless I'm drunk anyway."
This playful side of him had her stomach doing flip-flops. "I'll have to remember that."
"Don't get any ideas. I've got an early meeting tomorrow. It wouldn't do my stern image much good to appear late and hung over."
She quirked an eyebrow. "You do realise tomorrow is Sunday?"
"So it is. Getting the hotel back up and into shape takes up a lot of weekends. And evenings. And nights," he paused, "I guess I'm more my father's son than I may have realised."