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Authors: Hilary Norman

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BOOK: Caged
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‘At least they . . .’ Richard, her fiancé, sandy-haired and tall, stopped.
‘What?’ Debbie asked.
He shook his head. ‘It’s going to sound nuts,’ he said, ‘but just because they did love each other so much, I was going to say at least they were together.’
‘I know what you mean,’ Debbie said very softly, and began to cry.
Circles of hell.
TWELVE
I
sabella the Seventh was in oestrus.
Which had made her keeper happy.
Or would have, if Romeo the Fifth hadn’t started acting so aggressively.
He’d bitten poor Isabella on the neck the last time he’d mounted her, bitten her so hard she’d squealed.
The sound of rat pain was terrible. It pierced the keeper’s skull, seemed to reverberate for hours, stayed in the memory long after.
There was no doubting now that this Romeo would have to go soon.
Meantime, the keeper planned to separate the couple and calm the little guy down with one milligram of diazepam, then tend to the doe’s wounds, complete a few notations and withdraw.
All three of them in need of a little rest.
It was becoming increasingly hard to contemplate losing this Isabella, but that time was coming inexorably closer. Isabella the Seventh was overdue for subrogation, would have to be replaced, perhaps by one of her own offspring, perhaps not.
So after the litter was weaned, the keeper would just have to toughen up.
Like Pharaoh in the Bible, hardening his heart.
Power came at a price.
THIRTEEN
February 11
O
ut in the Miami Beach that most residents and visitors occupied, the first two days of this particular February week had been about the end of the cold weather and forecasts of sunshine, but for the homicide cops, Monday and Tuesday had been all about grim routine and discovery.
All too little to discover about a young couple without apparent enemies.
Without much of a past and no future at all.
On Wednesday morning in the conference room, the squad – comprising Sergeant Alvarez, Sam Becket, Al Martinez and Detectives Beth Riley and Mary Cutter – met to go over what they’d assembled so far, much of it a rehashing process. They would do this again repeatedly, especially in the absence of a real lead, since early findings often remained important even when superseded by new facts.
All the significant findings to date had come out of the medical examiner’s office early Monday. Neither victim had been raped or sodomized, nor had any injuries been found commensurate with any sexual assault, and, aside from the fatal knife wounds to their throats and some minor abrasions and contusions, Elliot Sanders had found no other injuries.
The blood found on the floor in the mansion matched neither victim, nor had the lab discovered any match on the CODIS database. Same deal so far on the usable fingerprints lifted from any number of surfaces in the old gallery, though Allison Moore’s prints had, as expected, been found in several locations as, in just one place, had Larry Beatty’s.
Michael Easterman’s last meal had consisted of beef with cream and paprika – so possibly goulash or beef stroganoff, the detectives had hypothesized – and Suzy Easterman had eaten white fish. They’d both had potatoes and one more added ingredient: a hefty dose of temazepam, which Sanders thought might have taken effect quite quickly because they’d both drunk alcohol.
‘So if the drugs were in the potatoes,’ Sam reprised at the meeting, ‘maybe someone cooked for them at home and did a major clean-up, or maybe they went to a restaurant where someone didn’t like them.’
‘They might have ordered takeout,’ Martinez said.
‘Or maybe someone invited them to dinner at their home,’ Beth Riley said.
‘Nothing new on the restaurant front?’ Alvarez asked.
‘Nothing,’ Sam said.
They’d already conducted a scan of restaurant menus in the area, had found two serving stroganoff and salmon, but no white fish, one place further away in Coral Gables serving both goulash and a variety of fish dishes, and, a more probable geographic candidate, a swanky Indian Creek restaurant also serving both; and Sam and Martinez had visited and come away with reservation sheets and a shared instinct that it was a non-starter.
‘Though at this point, we’re ruling nothing out,’ Sam said.
‘Nothing more from the neighbours,’ Mary Cutter said.
No one had reported seeing anyone delivering or leaving with any kind of food containers, though even if some residents were nosier than they might be admitting, with so many trees blocking the views from front windows, it would have been hard to see the victims’ pathway or front door.
‘Nothing from Easterman’s office,’ Martinez reported.
‘Nothing from anyplace.’ Riley raked her short red hair.
Everyone they’d spoken to had seemed shocked: colleagues, friends, locals.
No one with even the tiniest shred of a clue as to the young couple’s whereabouts prior to their abduction.
‘OK,’ Sam said, trying to lift the energy. ‘Let’s check the list of people we still need to interview.’
‘Or re-interview,’ Alvarez said.
All the neighbours, again.
Colleagues, again.
Mayumi Santos again
and
the cousin she’d gone to stay with during those key twenty-four hours.
‘Maybe her friends, too,’ Sam said.
‘For sure,’ Cutter said.
‘You feeling OK?’ Sam asked Martinez back in the office, his own cold having dried up, wondering if he’d maybe passed it on to his partner.
‘I’m good,’ Martinez said.
‘You seem on edge.’
‘Maybe a little.’ Martinez paused. ‘You got time to talk before we get moving?’
‘I can make time,’ Sam said.
‘This is personal stuff.’
‘I assumed.’ Sam’s heart sank a little. ‘Problem with Jess?’
Martinez looked around the open-plan squad room to see who was in earshot.
No one except Riley and two of the guys at the far end.
Three too many sets of ears.
‘Can we get out of here, man?’ he said. ‘Go get a cup of coffee?’
They walked fast along Washington, both mindful of the clock ticking in the case, and went into Markie’s, one of their regular haunts, going to sit right at the back with an Americano for Martinez and a cup of English breakfast tea for Sam – who had in the past been a coffee aficionado, until a cup had almost killed him.
Last cup ever so far as he was concerned.
‘So what’s up?’ Sam asked after several moments of silence. ‘Restful though this is.’
The coffee shop was almost empty, just two women in the front and Markie herself working at her laptop on the counter.
‘Maybe a lot,’ Martinez said.
‘You going to elaborate?’
‘Give me a chance, man.’ Martinez took a gulp of coffee, scalded his mouth and swore.
‘You OK, Al?’ Markie called out. ‘Need some water?’
‘I’m good, thanks,’ Martinez called back, then waited another second before he said: ‘I’m going to ask Jessie to marry me.’
‘You’re kidding me,’ Sam said. ‘Al, that’s great.’
‘If she says yes, it’s great.’
‘Why wouldn’t she say yes?’
‘Why would she, more like?’ Martinez sagged back in his seat. ‘I’m no oil painting, in case you didn’t notice, and I got lousy prospects.’ He shook his head. ‘Women date cops, but they don’t want to marry them, it’s a known fact.’
‘Grace married me.’
‘You’re a handsome black guy, man. I’m a short, middle-aged Cuban.’
‘Give me a break,’ Sam said, laughing.
‘Jessie’s a beautiful young woman – she could have anyone.’
‘But she wants you,’ Sam said.
‘Maybe,’ Martinez said. ‘Maybe not.’
‘When are you planning to ask her?’
‘Tonight,’ Martinez said. ‘If we finish early enough.’
‘Done deal,’ Sam told him.
‘I gotta heap of paperwork besides the new case.’
‘Dump it on my desk before you go.’
‘Grace is gonna hate me if you work late again because of me.’
‘Grace is going to be cheering you on,’ Sam said.
FOURTEEN
O
n Wednesday evening, Elizabeth Price and André Duprez were working late.
They were almost always working, together or separately, were always either in meetings at Tiller, Valdez, Weinman, the law firm where they both worked, or dealing with clients, or in court, or in their own offices or in the library at TVW ploughing through law tomes.
Sometimes they stopped to eat or do chores or to have sex, which they both enjoyed a
lot
, though their mutual ambition as divorce lawyers frequently drove them even harder than their physical urges.
Both in their early thirties, they were doing pretty well. André, from Quebec City, drove a second-hand BMW and lived in a condo in Miami Shores. Elizabeth lived in a small townhouse near Maule Lake in North Miami Beach. When one of them made partner, they’d agreed to move in together, but they intended to wait until they were both earning higher salaries before they considered marrying, because they believed in stability and equality.
For the most part, their conversations centred on the law, but they talked endlessly, never tired of hearing the other speak, sharing points of view and new experiences, learning together, respecting each other’s minds.
It was already after ten, and they’d worked through dinner at André’s apartment, and now they were too bushed, but Elizabeth had already said that she had to go back to her place for the night because she hadn’t done any laundry for a week, and she didn’t have a single white blouse left for the Thursday morning meeting at the office.
‘But we haven’t finished,’ André said in the Québécois accent that Elizabeth had come to adore, ‘and you’re already tired.’
‘I’m OK,’ she said.
André stifled a yawn and frowned. ‘I’m sleepy, too, matter of fact.’
Elizabeth regarded the work on the table. ‘Let’s just see if we can get a little more done,’ she said, ‘and then I’ll go.’
FIFTEEN
S
ometimes, Martinez hated himself.
All that talk, all that focus on wanting to get things right, and he’d got
nothing
right, and then he hadn’t even managed to get the damned words out during dinner the way he’d planned.
He’d taken her to the Bleu Moon, one of the restaurants in the Doubletree Grand Hotel on North Bayshore Drive, because a guy he’d gotten talking to in a bar two weeks back had told him about the great romantic evening he’d had there with his girlfriend. He’d seemed like a nice enough guy and there was no one else Martinez had wanted to ask; he’d felt a little embarrassed about asking even Sam, because a middle-aged police detective ought to damned well know where to take his girlfriend for an important dinner. So he’d taken the stranger’s advice and had reserved a table overlooking the bay.
Trouble was, he’d hated the place before they even found the restaurant, because the hotel was massive, jammed with tourists, and to reach the Bleu Moon they’d had to take an escalator, which made it feel like a goddamned shopping mall or a train station, and all he could think of as his beautiful girlfriend clung to his clammy paw was that she hated it too, and so she had to be thinking that if this was his idea of romance, then maybe she’d be better off looking elsewhere . . .
The restaurant itself was nice, in fact, and the table, too, overlooking the marina, but it was
modern
, which was all wrong for Jessica Kowalski, who was an old-fashioned girl – but then, right after they’d sat down and he’d ordered her Chardonnay and his beer, she’d looked around and said:
‘Al, this is so beautiful.’
God, he loved her.
‘I wanted something special,’ he’d said, and her smile had just lit up her blue eyes, and he’d thought for a moment that he was going to do the deed right then, but then their drinks had arrived, and suddenly it seemed to Martinez that he’d messed up again, because he ought to have ordered champagne. Except then Jess might have guessed what was coming, and that would have made him even more nervous, so there he was, feeling wrong-footed, and then they’d started looking at the menu and after that it had all been about food.
Things had gotten a little easier during the starters. He’d had calamari and she’d had seared scallops and she’d said they were delicious and asked what she’d done to deserve this whole treat, and he’d told her she deserved the best, but then he’d gotten all tensed up again.
Jess had asked him, during the entrées, if he was OK.
‘I’m great,’ he’d answered. ‘My steak is fine.’
‘It’s just you seem a little strained,’ she’d said.
‘I’m just tired, I guess,’ Martinez had said, wanting to kick himself for losing another opportunity, telling himself he’d put things right during dessert, except then Jess had said that she couldn’t eat another thing.
‘Al, something isn’t right,’ she’d said, seeing the look on his face.
‘Only that I don’t deserve you.’
‘What do you mean?’ Jess had asked.
Real concern in her eyes.
‘Later,’ Martinez had said.
‘Now I’m scared,’ Jess had said.
‘Oh, God, Jessie, don’t be.’
‘Easy for you to say – ’ she’d tried to smile – ‘because you can’t see your face.’
‘You know what?’ he’d said. ‘This place is making me nervous.’
‘So let’s get out of here,’ Jess had said.
‘Now why didn’t I think of that?’ he’d said.
So now, at half-past ten, they were in his Chevy in the parking lot on the corner near the hotel, and suddenly Martinez knew, as he was about to start the engine, that if he waited even one more second to try to get the scene just right, it might all go wrong again.
‘So here’s the thing, Jessie,’ he said.
BOOK: Caged
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