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Authors: Nora Roberts

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BOOK: Sacred Sins
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“T
HERE'S
no reason to kill us getting there.” Ed's tone of voice was serene as Ben took the Mustang around a corner at fifty. “She's already dead.”

Ben downshifted and took the next right. “You're the one who totaled the last car.
My
last car,” he added without too much malice. “Only had seventy-five thousand miles on it.”

“High-speed pursuit,” Ed mumbled.

The Mustang shimmied over a bump, reminding Ben that he'd been meaning to check the shocks.

“And I didn't kill you.”

“Contusions and lacerations.” Sliding through an amber light, Ben drove it into third. “Multiple contusions and lacerations.”

Reminiscently, Ed smiled. “We got them, didn't we?”

“They were unconscious.” Ben squealed to a halt at the curb and pocketed the keys. “And I needed five stitches in my arm.”

“Bitch, bitch, bitch.” With a yawn Ed unfolded himself from the car and stood on the sidewalk.

It was barely dawn, and cool enough so you could see your breath, but a crowd was already forming. Hunched in his jacket and wishing for coffee, Ben worked his way through the curious onlookers to the roped-off alley.

“Sly.” With a nod to the police photographer, Ben looked down on victim number three.

He would put her age at twenty-six to twenty-eight. The sweater was a cheap polyester, and the soles of her sneakers were worn almost smooth. She wore dangling, gold-plated earrings. Her face was a mask of heavy makeup that didn't suit the department-store sweater and corduroys.

Cupping his hands around his second cigarette of the day, he listened to the report of the uniformed cop beside him.

“Vagrant found her. We got him in a squad car sobering up. Seems he was picking through the trash when he came across her. Put the fear of God into him, so he ran out of the alley and nearly into my cruiser.”

Ben nodded, looking down at the neatly lettered note pinned to her sweater. Frustration and fury moved through him so swiftly that when acceptance settled in,
they were hardly noticed. Bending down, Ed picked up the oversized canvas bag she'd dropped. A handful of bus tokens spilled out.

It was going to be a long day.

S
IX
hours later they walked into the precinct. Homicide didn't have the seamy glamor of Vice, but it was hardly as neat and tidy as the stations in the suburbs. Two years before, the walls had been painted in what Ben referred to as apartment-house beige. The floor tiles sweat in the summer and held the cold in the winter. No matter how diligent the janitorial service was with pine cleaner and dust rags, the rooms forever smelled of stale smoke, wet coffee grounds, and fresh sweat. True, they'd taken up a pool in the spring and delegated one of the detectives to buy some plants to put on the windowsills. They weren't dying, but they weren't flourishing either.

Ben passed a desk and nodded to Lou Roderick as the detective typed up a report. This was a cop who took his caseload steadily, the way an accountant takes corporate taxes.

“Harris wants to see you,” Lou told him, and without looking up, managed to convey a touch of sympathy. “Just got in from a meeting with the mayor. And I think Lowenstein took a message for you.”

“Thanks.” Ben eyed the Snickers bar on Roderick's desk. “Hey, Lou—”

“Forget it.” Roderick continued to type his report without breaking rhythm.

“So much for brotherhood,” Ben muttered, and sauntered over to Lowenstein.

She was a different type from Roderick altogether, Ben mused. She worked in surges, stop and go, and was
more comfortable on the street than at a typewriter. Ben respected Lou's preciseness, but as a backup he'd have chosen Lowenstein, whose proper suits and trim dresses didn't hide the fact that she had the best legs in the department. Ben took a quick look at them before he sat on the corner of her desk. Too bad she was married, he thought.

Poking idly through her papers, he waited for her to finish her call. “How's it going, Lowenstein?”

“My garbage disposal's throwing up and the plumber wants three hundred, but that's all right because my husband's going to fix it.” She spun a form into her typewriter. “It'll only cost us twice as much that way. How about you?” She smacked his hand away from the Pepsi on her desk. “Got anything new on our priest?”

“Just a corpse.” If there was bitterness, it was hard to detect. “Ever been to Doug's, down by the Canal?”

“I don't have your social life, Paris.”

He gave a quick snort then picked up the fat mug that held her pencils. “She was a cocktail waitress there. Twenty-seven.”

“No use letting it get to you,” she murmured, then seeing his face, passed him the Pepsi. It always got to you. “Harris wants to see you and Ed.”

“Yeah, I know.” He took a long swallow, letting the sugar and caffeine pour into his system. “Got a message for me?”

“Oh, yeah.” With a smirk, she pushed through her papers until she found it. “Bunny called.” When the high, breathy voice didn't get a rise out of him, she sent him an arch look and handed him the paper. “She wants to know what time you're picking her up. She sounded real cute, Paris.”

He pocketed the slip and grinned. “She is real cute, Lowenstein, but I'd dump her in a minute if you wanted to cheat on your husband.”

When he walked off without returning her drink, she laughed and went back to typing out the form.

“They're turning my apartment into condos.” Ed hung up the phone and went with Ben toward Harris's office. “Fifty thousand. Jesus.”

“It's got bad plumbing.” Ben drained the rest of the Pepsi and tossed it into a can.

“Yeah. Got any vacancies over at your place?”

“Nobody leaves there unless they die.”

Through the wide glass window of Harris's office they could see the captain standing by his desk as he talked on the phone. He'd kept himself in good shape for a man of fifty-seven who'd spent the last ten years behind a desk. He had too much willpower to run to fat. His first marriage had gone under because of the job, his second because of the bottle. Harris had given up booze and marriage, and now the job took the place of both. The cops in his department didn't necessarily like him, but they respected him. Harris preferred things that way. Glancing up, he signaled for both men to enter.

“I want the lab reports before five. If there was a piece of lint on her sweater, I want to know where it came from. Do your job. Give me something to work with so I can do mine.” When he hung up, he went over to his hot plate and poured coffee. After five years he still wished it were scotch. “Tell me about Francie Bowers.”

“She's been working tables at Doug's for almost a year. Moved to D.C. from Virginia last November. Lived alone in an apartment in North West.” Ed shifted his weight and checked his notebook. “Married twice, neither lasted over a year. We're checking out both exes. She worked nights and slept days, so her neighbors don't know much about her. She got off work at one. Apparently she cut through the alley to get to the bus stop. She didn't own a car.”

“Nobody heard anything,” Ben added. “Or saw anything.”

“Ask again,” Harris said simply. “And find someone who did. Anything more on number one?”

Ben didn't like victims by numbers, and stuck his hands in his pockets. “Carla Johnson's boyfriend's in L.A., got a bit part on a soap. He's clean. It appeared she'd had an argument with another student the day before she was killed. Witnesses said it got pretty hot.”

“He admitted it,” Ed continued. “Seems they'd dated a couple of times and she wasn't interested.”

“Alibi?”

“Claims he got drunk and picked up a freshman.” With a shrug, Ben sat on the arm of a chair. “They're engaged. We can bring him in again, but neither of us believes he had anything to do with it. He's got no connection with Clayton or Bowers. When we checked him over, we found out that the kid's the all-American boy from an upper-middle-class family. Lettered in track. It's more likely Ed's a psychotic than that college boy.”

“Thanks, partner.”

“Well, check him out again anyway. What's his name?”

“Robert Lawrence Dors. He drives a Honda Civic and wears polo shirts.” Ben drew out a cigarette. “White loafers and no socks.”

“Roderick'll bring him in.”

“Wait a minute—”

“I'm assigning a task force to this business,” Harris said, cutting Ben off. He poured a second cup of coffee. “Roderick, Lowenstein, and Bigsby'll be working with you. I want this guy before he kills the next woman who happens to be out walking alone.” His voice remained mild, reasonable, and final. “You have a problem with that?”

Ben strode to the window and stared out. It was personal, and he knew better. “No, we all want him.”

“Including the mayor,” Harris added with only the slightest trace of bitterness. “He wants to be able to give the press something positive by the end of the week. We're calling in a psychiatrist to give us a profile.”

“A shrink?” With a half laugh, Ben turned around. “Come on, Captain.”

Because he didn't like it either, Harris's voice chilled. “Dr. Court has agreed to cooperate with us, at the mayor's request. We don't know what he looks like, maybe it's time we found out how he thinks. At this point,” he added with a level glance at both men, “I'm willing to look into a crystal ball if we'd get a lead out of it. Be here at four.”

Ben started to open his mouth then caught Ed's warning glance. Without a word they strode out. “Maybe we should call in a psychic,” Ben muttered.

“Close-minded.”

“Realistic.”

“The human psyche is a fascinating mystery.”

“You've been reading again.”

“And those trained to understand it can open doors laymen only knock against.”

Ben sighed and flicked his cigarette into the parking lot as they stepped outside. “Shit.”

“S
HIT
,”
Tess muttered as she glanced out her office window. There were two things she had no desire to do at that moment. The first was battling traffic in the cold, nasty rain that had begun to fall. The second was to become involved with the homicides plaguing the city. She was going to have to do the first because the mayor, and her grandfather, had pressured her to do the second.

Her caseload was already too heavy. She might have refused the mayor, politely, even apologetically. Her grandfather was a different matter. She never felt like Dr. Teresa Court when she dealt with him. After five minutes she wasn't five feet four with a woman's body and a black-framed degree behind her. She was again a skinny twelve-year-old, overpowered by the personality of the man she loved most in the world.

He'd seen to it that she'd gotten that black-framed degree, hadn't he? With his confidence, she thought, his support, his unstinting belief in her. How could she say no when he asked her to use her skill? Because handling her current caseload took her ten hours a day. Perhaps it was time she stopped being stubborn and took on a partner.

Tess looked around her pastel office with its carefully selected antiques and watercolors. Hers, she thought. Every bit of it. And she glanced at the tall, oak file cabinet, circa 1920. It was loaded with case files. Those were hers too. No, she wouldn't be taking on a partner. In a year she'd be thirty. She had her own practice, her own office, her own problems. That's just the way she wanted to keep it.

Taking the mink-lined raincoat from the closet, she shrugged into it. And maybe, just maybe, she could help the police find the man who was splashed across the headlines day after day. She could help them find him, stop him, so that he in turn could get the help he needed.

She picked up her purse and the briefcase, which was fat with files to be sorted through that evening. “Kate.” Stepping into her outer office, Tess turned up her collar. “I'm on my way to Captain Harris's office. Don't pass anything through unless it's urgent.”

“You should have a hat,” the receptionist answered.

“I've got one in the car. See you tomorrow.”

“Drive carefully.”

Already thinking ahead, she walked through the door while digging for her car keys. Maybe she could grab some take-out Chinese on the way home and have a quiet dinner before—

BOOK: Sacred Sins
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