Nikki Heat, the NYPD's top homicide detective, has been promoted to captain just in time to face a thrilling case with a very personal twist. Her fiancé Jameson Rook is deep in an investigation. Professionally for Heat, Rook's meddling in the case compromises her new job. Privately, it becomes an early test of their engagement when Rook becomes a distraction at best, and an obstacle at worst, as their parallel lives not only cross, but collide.
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Also by Richard Castle
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DRIVING HEATPrint edition ISBN: 9781783299980E-book edition ISBN: 9781783299997
Published by Titan BooksA division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd.144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP
First edition September 2015
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This edition published by arrangement with Kingswell, an imprint of Disney Book Group.
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Because of you.Because of us.Always.
The last thing Nikki Heat expected when she received her promotion to captain of the NYPD was how much the proud expression on Rook’s face in the audience would make her want him. Throughout the ceremony she had been dignified, attentive, focused, and deeply moved. But toward the end, as she relaxed from the formal constraints and propriety required of her for the program, she clutched her new gold badge, surveyed the rows of family and friends in the auditorium, and found her fiancé.
In the cab on the way back to his place, when Nikki was telling Rook about how the Heroes video they played, narrated by James Earl Jones, had made her cry, she caught him staring, listening intently as she recounted her experience, and thought of taking him right there. Then he held her gaze in a way that told her he felt it, too.
The unspoken heat of their longing and the eagerness of anticipation on an elevator ride to his Tribeca loft was nothing new. All that and plenty more crackled between them on their slow rise, as they leaned against opposite corners of the rattling beast. But this time, in the industrial lift’s sexually charged atmosphere, the eye games and the frank appraisals and the transparency of desire grew thick enough to take on life. Decorum vanished, giving way to animal impulse.
As if of one mind, they hurled themselves at each other. Nikki, with a bit of a head start, had enough power in her lust to meet Rook beyond halfway and walk him backward into the steel accordion gate of the elevator cage. His moan on impact sounded nothing like pain but a lot like aching. He folded his long arms around her. She pressed against him from below, shuddering and taking his earlobe in her teeth. One of his hands left her backside and fumbled for the control panel. The car jerked to a stop between floors, lurching them hard against each other.
They found each other’s mouths. He brought his palm back to cup her bottom, pulling her to him. She resisted, but only in order to create enough space to fit her hands between their bodies and undo his belt. By the time she did, his fingers were already pulling at her zipper.
After a cosmic union drowned out by a series of impatient hollers up the shaft from a pizza delivery guy in the lobby, they sent the cage clanking downward and strolled the short hallway toward his loft, still adhering to one another magnetically. “I can’t believe we never did that before,” she said.
Rook smiled. “The key is to get the elevator all to ourselves. Trust me, you don’t want to pull a stunt like we just did with Mr. Zeiss from 302 in there watching.”
Nikki pictured the tiny neighbor with the thick glasses and laughed. Then an afterthought earned Rook a side-glance from her. “You’ve never done it in there before, have you?” she asked. “I mean, you were pretty deft with that switch.”
“Let’s just call this a day of firsts and leave it there.” He turned at the door to face her and touched the new twin gold bars on her white uniform collar. “For instance, you were my first captain, Captain Heat.”
Nikki startled at the sound of the title, just as she had when the police commissioner had uttered it at her swearing-in. Once again Heat felt the strangeness of her new rank and the daunting weight of her new responsibilities. Even though she had known for months that the promotion was coming, now that she had taken the oath, affixed her bars, and upgraded her shield, the good news no longer felt like talking about Christmas at a Labor Day picnic. The day had come, her captaincy was official, and with it came a twinge she nicknamed Happy-Scared.
Rook opened the door and let her go in ahead of him. From the threshold, he heard a muted whimper and joined Nikki inside, where she stood wiping a tear from one cheek. Sprawling before her stretched a loft transformed into a parade float of NYPD colors: blue tablecloths blanketed the countertop and the dining table in the great room beyond it; blue and white crepe streamers hung from the ceiling, interlaced with blue and white ribbons anchoring blue and white helium balloons; a half-dozen floral arrangements of white spray roses mixed with blue irises adorned the tables and shelves; a white sheet cake with a photo transfer of a captain’s badge in blue and gold, complete with the laurel and crown insignia, sat on the coffee table beside a blue ice bucket with her favorite white, a Jean-Max Roger Sancerre.
“Wait for it,” Rook said, and picked up a remote to start “Blue Champagne” by Glenn Miller on his Spotify. After a few bars, Nikki closed her eyes and dropped her chin as if to hide her face. “Too tacky?” he asked.
Nikki raised her head and turned to face him—etching the memory of her friend, her lover, her fiancé so perfectly filling the Hugo Boss made-to-measure he had bought just for her ceremony. They kissed again, tenderly this time, and she hooked his elbow with hers, drawing him to the coffee table. She picked up the ice bucket and said, “Bring the wine glasses.”
“What about the cake?”
“Dessert first, then cake,” she said, then led him up the hall to the bedroom.
* * *
A single purr of her new department-issued BlackBerry on the nightstand woke Nikki two minutes before her five-thirty iPhone alarm. She rolled on one side to check it and found an email blast from One Police Plaza apprising her and the roster of seventy-six other precinct commanders of new protocols for filing CompStat numbers on the database. As she scrolled through the assault of seemingly endless text about complaint categories, warrants served, and arrest activity, the familiar Happy-Scared tightness wormed into her gut, with Scared leading the way. This marked Captain Heat’s first official received email as the new commander of the Twentieth Precinct, after waiting over half a year for the job to be hers.
The past seven months had been an exercise in patience and diplomacy for Nikki, who had struggled to run her homicide squad under the bland leadership of the interim precinct commander who had taken over after the death of Captain Irons—with everyone, including the PC, aware of the open secret: that the gig was hers as soon as the machinery of department politics could spit out a date.
The captain’s bars had come the day before. Today the cold truth hit home: assumption of command.
She had heard Rook get up a half hour earlier and found him sitting at the dining table in a tee and boxers, illuminated by the lunar glow of his laptop. He closed the lid and put it to sleep as soon as Nikki shuffled into the room. “You don’t have to stop working because of me.”
“No problem.” He squared the edges of some notes and slid them inside a file, which he also closed, almost furtively, she thought. “Good a time as any for a break.”
“What are you working on?”
“Now, do I ask you that?” He rose to meet her and enveloped her in a warm embrace, which they both held.
“All the time,” she said into his chest. “But if you caved and you’re ghostwriting another romance novel, like you swore you would never do again, I can understand why you’re not eager to own up—Victoria St. Clair.”
“Thankfully, Disney has renewed the movie option on my dispatches from Chechnya, so I no longer have to rip any bodices under that nom de plume. Except yours, of course.”
“Speaking of. You seemed very into that ‘Leave your uniform shirt on’ thing last night.”
Rook frowned, feigning innocence. “I did?”
“You definitely did. And you asked me to say ‘I’m the captain now.’ ”
“OK.” He bobbed his head from side to side and grinned. “I’ll admit there was a bit of an unexpected turn-on to the whole starchy white shirt with the captain’s dealies on the collars.”
“Seriously? Rook, my uniform turned you on?”
“I rarely see you in one. Certainly not in bed.”
“This is sounding like role-play. Was I role-playing and didn’t know it?”
“Not at all. Unless you liked it.” He chuckled. “Nothing wrong with something to keep it all interesting and playful.”
“We need that?”
“Need? Absolutely not. But it’s good to keep it fresh, right?”
“It’s not fresh?”
“I seem to have found myself digging a hole.” He felt her appraising stare, which only made him keep digging, “It’s very fresh. Although occasionally—only occasionally—you have to admit you have been a bit … preoccupied.”
“Like in the elevator?”
“Definitely not preoccupied in the elevator. Or most of the time. This is coming out all wrong. All I’m saying is that I want to make sure that when we get married, that we …”
“Keep the spark?”
“Well said. Yes. The spark.” He shifted gears as fast as he could. “Let’s have breakfast. I made coffee.”
“Great,” she said, “I’ll have it with my cake.”
“Look at you, Captain Cake-for-Breakfast.”
Nikki arched a brow. “Keeping it fresh.”
He pretended to be wounded by her jab and moved off to the kitchen for cups and plates.
As they finished, Rook ran a forefinger around his plate to collect rogue icing and said, “We should have this baker do our wedding cake.”
That only made Nikki start to panic about how far behind they were in their wedding plans. Both had long before agreed on August, which was still four months away, but with all his work and all her work, so far they hadn’t reserved a venue for the ceremony or the reception, or planned the honeymoon beyond discussing the what-ifs of Venice, Nice, and Portofino. For two high-functioning, big-career planners, this was sheer madness. “At the very least,” she said, “we should settle on the weekend so we can send out some save-the-dates.”
“I totally agree.” He offered her his icing finger, which Nikki waved away like Sabathia rejecting a sign from Stewart. “Otherwise, some of the guests on my tentative list are going to get locked into commitments.” He dragged the frosting across his tongue and began to enumerate a few of his invitees. “Sir Paul has got his Out There tour. Annie Leibovitz is constantly booked. Bono said to name the date, he’ll drop what he’s doing, but I don’t want to press our luck, especially if it’s one of his charitable things. Lena Dunham’s writing her memoir—another? George Stephanopoulos is working every day of the week—he’d have to invent a new day, as it is …” Rook noticed that Nikki was staring pensively at a blue balloon that had sagged during the night. “Am I hogging the conversation? You have a guest list, too, I know.”
“Well, let’s see. There’s my dad and his new girlfriend. And his sister, Aunt Jessie.”
“Jessie. Have I met her?”
“Right. She’s … You sure it’s Jessie?” Heat’s phone buzzed. “It’s very inconvenient the way people always die when we’re trying to have a conversation.”
Reading Nikki’s expression after she answered, he slid a pen and one of his spiral reporter’s notebooks across the blue tablecloth toward her. This was one end of a case call he had witnessed many times: a series of uh-huh, uh-huhs, her nodding head with its angel’s face tautened by earthbound realities.
“Detective Ochoa,” she said after she hung up, although Rook already had identified the voice from the call spill.
Rook stood and grabbed their dessert plates and said, “I’ll come with you.” But by then Heat was already on her way to get dressed.
As they crossed West End Avenue at 72nd, Heat asked Rook to have his car drop them mid-block, before they got to Riverside. As a precinct commander, she would be issued her own undercover vehicle when she got to the station house, which already made her feel conspicuous enough. “My first day after the promotion, I don’t want to arrive at a crime scene in a limo.”
“Technically, it’s a luxury SUV,” Rook said, adding, “And it’s not mine, it’s a Hitch! I love using my Hitch! app to hitch a Hitch! And a true five-thumb ride, Vlad. Right here is fine.” The driver’s troubled eyes flicked to Heat’s in the mirror, but she told him not to worry about the no-stopping zone, that this was official police business.
“As if he couldn’t figure that out,” said Rook once they were out on the curb. To make his point, he used his cuff to polish the captain’s bars on her crisp uniform shirt. And when she didn’t respond, he cocked his head. “You all right?”
Nikki nodded absently. She had already gone within herself, peering west to the far corner and the two patrolmen stationed in front of the caution tape at the entrance to Riverside Park. Behind it, she knew a life had ended. Heat stilled her mind, taking her ritual beat of silence for the victim and his family—assuming that he had one. Even though it only took her three seconds, the sign of respect never became merely perfunctory. Life mattered. Maybe more when your business was homicide.
As the pair of unis lifted the tape for them, she noted that both were in short sleeves, a sign that April might finally be getting serious about turning milder. Which only made Nikki stress for a flash about an August date racing ever closer with no plans yet made. From the statue of Eleanor Roosevelt, Heat and Rook walked along the downward-sloping footpath past the dog run, which was empty that morning because of police activity, then heard their footsteps echo inside the arched stone underpass beneath the Henry Hudson. On the other side of the tunnel, between the softball field and the river, the Greenway had been transformed into an impromptu parking lot of six cop cars, one idling ambulance, and a white van with a blue side stripe that read “Medical Examiner.” Rook said, “All my experience as an investigative journalist tells me this is our murder scene.”
Nikki didn’t acknowledge him because she was immersed in her walk-up scan, making her appraisal of the geography, the sounds, the smells—letting the feel of the area talk to her. Lazy detectives showed up and asked questions. Heat liked to have a few thoughts of her own before she spoke to anyone.
What she observed at 6:20 A.M. was a clear spring morning full of fresh promise. The ball field was empty, but an aluminum bat leaned against the backstop next to a white bucket full of softballs, with three of their companions lying like little white domes in the uncut grass out in right field. Joggers and cyclists were out, but they were being held back at the north and south ends of the blacktop trail, inconvenienced by a murder, and sent off to seek alternate routes. The sun had risen minutes before and had not yet crested the range of high-rise apartments on the West Side, so the strip of tree-lined parkland running along the Hudson remained in shade. A cooling breeze blew across the river from the New Jersey side, strong enough for the gulls to open their wings and coast in place and to mottle the water with shapeshifting patterns. On the idle cricket pitch adjacent to the softball diamond, Detective Rhymer talked with a red-faced man forty pounds too portly for Lycra standing beside his Cannondale Slice. Forty yards away, at the edge of the bike path, Detective Feller interviewed an ashen-faced young woman in batting gloves and a Barnard sweatshirt with sawed-off sleeves. To Nikki, it was all silent movie. Voices were lost in the white noise of morning rush hour on the highway behind her and the churn of a barge transporting a construction crane upriver, most likely part of the Tappan Zee upgrade. But she didn’t need to hear any words to recognize two eyewitnesses who had seen something they would not soon, if ever, forget. Heat knew. She had been about the age of the Barnard coed when she found her mother’s body.
Nikki’s friend Lauren Parry hadn’t seen her yet. The medical examiner’s head was inside the back of the OCME van, prepping her kit for the job ahead. Detectives Raley and Ochoa, partners so inseparable that they had earned the single mash-up nickname Roach, made note of her, rose from where they were crouching at the riverbank, and approached in tandem. “How’d you manage a full-squad turnout here?” asked Rook while the pair came trudging up the grass slope of the Hudson. The other detectives, Rhymer and Feller, also spotted her and started to approach. “Is it a celebrity victim?” Rook continued. “I won’t name names, but there’s a handful whose passing wouldn’t sadden me. Does that make me bad?”
“Very,” replied Nikki. “But I don’t know who we’re working. The turnout is about something else.”
“Do I get a hint?”
The four detectives were nearly within earshot, so Heat kept her reply to one word. “Ambition.”
Rook’s expression lit up as soon as she said it. “Ri-i-i-ight,” he muttered as the synapses fired. Heat’s promotion had created a void in her old position, homicide squad leader. Now four candidates, presenting faces ranging from eagerness to practiced aloofness, drew around the newly minted precinct commander.
“Congratulations, Captain Heat,” said Randall Feller. “Hip-hip!”
Heat held up two palms toward him. “Do. Not.”
The detective’s brow knotted. “What? It’s a big deal.”
“It’s a crime scene.”
Feller was a born cop, but he frequently brought too much street to the job. Correctness was not Randy’s forte, and he provided an example by pointing toward the river and saying, “It’s not like he can hear me.”
“I can,” was all Heat needed to say, and he lowered his gaze to the ground. He would apologize back at the precinct, and she would let it go. The dance was the dance.
“Here’s what we’ve got,” said Ochoa. “The cyclist—”
“Who I interviewed,” Detective Rhymer injected for no reason other than to be heard—a move quite out of character for the soft-spoken Virginia transplant. Feeling their eyes on him and losing his nerve, he pinked up and mumbled, “More later.”
Miguel Ochoa continued, with an undisguised eye roll toward his partner. “The cyclist was riding north on the path at approx five-oh-five A.M., when he saw a kayak bobbing against a busted piling from the old pier that used to live out there.”
“The near one,” added Raley, indicating the closest of the three rotting posts jutting up out of the Hudson like the remnants of a giant prehistoric beast’s ribcage.
“He saw it in the dark?” asked Rook.
“He caught the kayak in silhouette,” said Rhymer, who now had cause to jump in and spoke with his usual relaxed authority. “The river picks up a lot of light from those buildings and the terminal at Jacob’s Ferry. Plus you got the reflection from the George.” They all pivoted north, where the sparkle from the George Washington Bridge’s lights cast a silver sheen on the Hudson even in the early moments after sunrise.
Raley got back to the timeline. “He sees a guy who’s immobile inside, and no paddle, so he makes his 911 call at five-oh-seven. He stops on the bank, calling out to the guy in the kayak—no answer—and keeps tabs on the boat until the EMT and radio cars get here.”
“While he’s waiting,” added Detective Feller, “the wind and the current push the kayak off the piling. It starts drifting to shore. Bicycle boy hears my eyewit pinging softballs and calls her over to help him grab hold as it comes ashore. They’re afraid to touch him, he’s a goner. GSW to the head, unresponsive, and as pale as—” Lesson learned, Feller checked himself. “Pale.”
Heat took two pairs of nitrile gloves from her pocket, handing one pair to Rook as the group deployed past the coroner’s van and down the grassy incline toward the water. “Watch your step,” said Ochoa. “Lance Armstrong lost his breakfast here … and here.”
“Good morning, Captain Heat,” said Lauren Parry, who was crouched over the victim with her back to her colleagues. “You’ll pardon me if I don’t salute.”
“Lots of people say that right before I see them,” said the medical examiner. In spite of the lightness of their banter, Heat knew better than to be impatient with her friend and waited her turn to see the corpse while the ME performed her prelim on the body, which was still seated upright in the cockpit. The kayak wasn’t going anywhere. First-on-scene had roped the carry handles and staked it, bow and stern, to the bank.
“Who’s got the rundown on the vic?” asked Heat, eager for something to do other than pretend to be patient.
“Moi,” said Ochoa. “Black male, forty-six. We had to open about six zippers in his life vest to find ID. Turns out he’s kinda family.”
“Cop?” asked Heat, wishing Lauren would hurry the hell up.
“Not in the strict sense. He’s got PD credentials as a contractor.”
“Consultant, actually.” Rhymer held up a plastic evidence bag and read the laminated card zipped inside it. “Here it is, ‘Consulting Psychologist to the NYPD.’ ”
The flutter in Nikki’s chest accelerated so much that her heart skipped a beat as her head whipped toward the kayak. She wondered if anyone else had noticed her startle, but only Rook was watching, intrigued by her reaction. Protocol be damned, she stepped up beside Dr. Parry and stared at the corpse.
“His name,” said Raley, “was—”
“Lon King,” finished Heat. Beyond that she couldn’t summon breath for more words. Nikki looked down at the corpse in the boat, wondering who the hell would put a bullet in the forehead of her shrink.
Heat felt more than saw all the heads of the homicide squad slowly rotate to face her. But with the vortex of disbelief swirling within Nikki all she could manage was to keep her eyes fixed on the body beneath her as she groped for an emotional handle. Still more disquieting, the psychologist’s face looked not much different in death than it had in their sessions: neutral, dispassionate, amenable. How many times had she stared at the blank canvas he so studiously presented and seen him with his eyes relaxed and his mouth slightly open just as they were now, betraying no judgment or pleasure—or, in this case, no life itself.
Lauren Parry whispered a soft, “Nikki?” and slipped a gloved hand into hers. “Do you need to sit down?” Heat gave her a no-look head wag and made an instinctive, albeit pointless, visual survey of the area for the killer. An al-Qaeda sniper on the fishing pier to the left? It was unoccupied. A drug cartel’s menacing cigarette boat speeding away? There was none. A PTSD cop scrambling upslope into the thicket above the Greenway? Nothing but robins on worm patrol in the grass.
At last her gaze came back to the squad, every one of them still attending her, patiently waiting for Heat to speak. Then she sought Rook, who stood with the others but was staring down at the shrink’s body with an expression of distress that appeared out of scale for someone who didn’t know the victim. Could it be, she thought, that their relationship had reached some point of emotional fusion and that Rook had taken on her upset as his own? Under other circumstances that would have made Nikki feel very happy. But not these.
“Guess you’ve all figured out that I knew the victim,” she said, trying to dig herself out of the moment she had created. Rook’s eyes came up to meet hers, and she took a pause, rummaging in the uncomfortable instant for the version she dared to tell about the extent of her counseling with the shrink. Nikki, usually one for transparency, opted for the smallest truth she could tell, instinctively protecting herself from personal disclosure—to the detectives, to her fiancé. “You remember back a couple of years when Captain Irons tried to get me off a case by ordering an evaluation from a department psychologist?” She tilted her head toward the victim but didn’t look at him, responding to some irrational expectation that Lon King might sit up and urge her not to withhold.
That much seemed just enough for the detectives. Rook still came off a little pinched to her, but Heat judged it better to get off the thin ice so she wouldn’t fall through, and switched gears to logistics. “All right, this is complicated. Let’s huddle up and see where to take this,” she began.
But then Detective Raley chimed in ahead of everyone else. “First place we need to start is a time of death guesstimate,” he said, taking it on himself to address the group, but speaking for the ears of Lauren Parry, too.
And did she ever hear him. The ME stood up from her crouch and regarded him with the same cool stare the others were giving him.
“Hoo-boy,” said Rook. “I’ve seen that look. I’ve gotten that look. It’s all yours, buddy.”
“What? Well we do, don’t we?” Rather than cowering, Raley was doubling down on taking point on the investigation himself. “We need a window so we know where to start, based on when.” He scanned the squad, but they offered no encouragement and mostly looked away.
“Detective,” said Dr. Parry quietly, evenly. “Are you suggesting I take direction from you on this case?”
Her measured response set Raley back on his heels. “No, I’m just … Taking some initiative, that’s all.”
“Dynamic, homes,” said his partner, with some unmistakable stink on the remark.
Raley pushed back against Ochoa with a fake smile. “ ’Tude’s not helping.”
If there had been any doubt in Heat’s mind that the true jockeying for squad leader had begun, Roach’s trading elbows like that erased it. “Glad we’re all eager to jump in,” she said. “So let’s.” She turned to Lauren Parry, very much wanting a TOD window, but loathe to ask after what had just occurred. “Doctor, do what you do, and we’ll check in.” Parry gave her a you-got-it nod and crouched again beside the kayak to run her tests. Nikki continued, “Since what we have here is a scene of discovery more than an actual crime scene, we need to gather information about where the murder could have taken place.”
“And when,” said Rook. He turned to the ME. “Can’t help it, Doc. I see pigtails, I gotta pull ’em.”
“Nikki?” said Parry.
“Prelim, twelve to fourteen hours based on temp and lividity. Rook?”
Unfazed, he turned to the other detectives. “It’s a small price to pay to get you boys critical information on a timely basis. Your unspoken thanks is all I need.”
Nikki ran the math and peered across the wide expanse of waterway at the New Jersey bluffs. The windows of the high-rise apartments over in West New York and Union City were just starting to kick back glints of the sun’s first rays that in turn reflected off the water. There, where a cool-headed aviator had once miraculously set down an airliner, Nikki tried to envision the situation just before sunset the night before and to trace the path of an adrift twelve-foot Perception Tribute.
“Getting a fix on his point of origin’s going to be a bear,” said Rhymer. “I did a lot of kayaking in Roanoke, growing up. A boat like this with a shallow draft, in windy conditions, nobody steering … Criminy, who knows?”
Heat continued her survey anyway, following potential courses from upriver near Harlem and the Bronx. Rook moved close beside her and said, “Mahicantuck. That’s the name Manhattan’s indigenous tribe gave the Hudson. Translated, it means ‘the river that flows two ways.’ Which is to say it’s an estuary. Which is to say he could have just as easily come from the opposite direction, up from the Battery. To calculate the drift pattern, you’re going to have to check tide charts to find out the ebb and flood over two cycles.” He saw the frustration this observation provoked and said, “Hey, facts are my business. You get in a relationship with a journalist, it’s not always going to be good news.”
With no other useful information likely to pop up at a secondary crime scene, Heat left Dr. Parry and her crew to finish the prelim on the body, assigned a foot patrol to keep an eye out for fishermen in case any of them had spotted unusual activity the night before, and set out for the Twentieth to convene the squad and get a Murder Board started.
* * *
Eager to get the investigation rolling, Heat blew right past her newly assigned precinct commander’s office and, on her first day in charge, sat at her old desk in the homicide bull pen while the other detectives, plus Rook, found their way in with coffees and what passed for breakfast scrounged from the station house break room. While they gathered, Nikki opened her department email for a habitual spot check. She thought there must have been a server error. Her monitor filled, buffered, then filled again with a cascade of messages, more than she ever received in a week, let alone in one morning. A few were slugged “Congratulations” and “Well done” from commanders at other precincts. One marked “Urgent” came from the precinct’s union rep, who said he needed to have a meeting with the new PC immediately on her arrival. A second email came from Personnel downtown, directing her not to meet with the Police Benevolent Association rep yet. Another, with the intriguing subject “Time Sensitive,” included a petition from five of the precinct’s administrative aides asking what the policy would be on e-cigarettes in the building. Heat closed her email and strode to the blank whiteboard to do some real police work. By the time she had block-printed Lon King’s name atop the shiny blank surface, Raley, Ochoa, Feller, and Rhymer had rolled chairs in a semicircle around her. The squad’s newest addition, Detective Inez Aguinaldo, whom Nikki had recruited a month before from the Southampton PD as a replacement, ended a phone call at her desk and unfolded a chair off to one side.
It never took much to bring this roomful of pros to order, but as Nikki turned to face them, something in their silent attention felt more like scrutiny—as if she were naked. But it was quite the opposite. Captain Heat stood before them today in a uniform of all-regulation white shirt, dark-blue trousers, and gleaming metal instead of the jeans and untucked oxford she had worn to work the last time the bull pen had convened. She made a mental note to check regs for loopholes and see how strict they were about the starch and brass. The things you never think about before you take a job …
“Lon King,” she began. “Psychologist with a private practice but also under contract with the NYPD to provide counseling within the department.” Without making a conscious color choice she used her blue dry erase to write “NYPD SHRINK” on the board. “What else do we know?”
“Kayaker,” said Detective Rhymer.
Feller shook his head. “Why, just ’cause he died in one? Last month we found some dude buried in wet cement near that restaurant they’re building near Lincoln Center. That sure didn’t make him a construction worker. Or a restauraunteur.”
“Actually, it’s restaur-a-teur,” said Rook as he entered, ending a call and slipping his cell phone into his blazer pocket. “Common mistake. Like laundrymat. Or libary.” He rolled a chair over from his borrowed, unofficial desk. One caster squeaked the whole way.
“Nonetheless.” Heat paused, studying a tightness in Rook’s face as he took a seat, then she turned and wrote “kayaker?” on the board. “Since the victim was discovered in a kayak, we can at least post that and make it part of our investigation to see if it was a one-time activity or a hobby.”
Sean Raley called out, “Family,” and Nikki made that a heading, too, then felt everyone’s gaze again. This time, it wasn’t about the uniform.
“If you’re wondering if I know, I don’t. Anybody here been to counseling? You don’t learn too much about the shrink; they kinda make it all about you.” Feeling herself moving into an uncomfortable neighborhood, she turned the page with another heading: “COD.” “Cause of Death is prelim, but obvious.”
“No-brainer,” said Feller, who immediately held up surrender hands. “I fucking swear, I wasn’t goofing on him. Come on.”
Nikki gave him a pass and continued, “Single GSW to the forehead. Small caliber, no exit wound. Ballistics will get a slug to analyze by this afternoon.”
Ochoa scrawled that in his notebook. “Small bore kind of rules out sniper.”
“So does this.” Nikki held up a printout one of the administrative aides had come in with and placed on her podium. “Follow-up from ME Parry says there were trace metals and gunpowder residue surrounding the entrance wound.” The significance of that hung in the room while the investigators pondered.
“Takes away a passing boat, too,” observed Raley. “Unless it was mighty close.”
Rhymer raised his hand. “Like another kayaker?”
“Or somebody on his dock. Or a boat that launched him,” said his partner.
“Or suicide.” Detective Feller tucked his boots under his chair and leaned toward Heat. “It’s tough, but it’s got to be in the mix. Shrinks off themselves, too. I’m just sayin’.”
Nikki, who had always drilled it into her squad to approach every case with beginner’s eyes—not to be complacent, not to work by rote—nodded in agreement. “Everything’s on the table.” She added “suicide” as a subheading along with the other options and, like the others on the list, put a question mark beside it. “When we left the Greenway, I saw Dr. Parry bagging the victim’s hands. Detective Ochoa, as soon as we break here, I’d like you to put in a call to Lauren and let us know immediately if she found any residue on them.”
“Mind one from left field?” asked Rook.
Nikki, glad to see him finally engaging in the process, said, “Well, left field is sort of your area.”
“That, and Area Fifty-one,” added Feller, who was about as much a fan of Rook’s passion for spitballing conspiracy theories as he was of having his pronunciation tweaked.
Undaunted, or perhaps merely oblivious to his fellow cop’s disdain, Rook said, “What if he wasn’t killed in the boat? The shooter murders King somewhere else, puts him in the kayak, and either gives it a push or a tow just to confuse us and keep us from knowing where the crime scene was.” By the time he had finished, other brains were chewing that very real possibility—even Randall Feller’s.
Detective Aguinaldo raised a tentative hand and spoke for the first time in the meeting. “Not sure whether this is too half-baked for group discussion …”
“No such thing,” Rook said, chuckling. “Didn’t you hear my theory? Let ’er rip.”
“It’s not so much a theory.”
The new detective’s transition had been a slow one. Heat, who had liaised with Aguinaldo in the Hamptons on a case around the time of Hurricane Sandy, knew her potential and constantly prodded her not to feel intimidated by the squad of veterans in a big-city department. “Inez, if you’re holding, don’t be shy, let’s hear it.”
“OK. Since I was on duty here this morning instead of down by the river, I called Forensics to touch base with whoever was assigned to this case.”
“Benigno DeJesus,” said Heat. “I pushed for him to catch this one, because he’s simply the best there is.”
Aguinaldo nodded. “So I’ve heard. And we had a nice chat while you were en route here.”
“You already talked to him?”
“Seemed like routine meeting prep to me.”
That was one of many reasons Nikki liked Inez. She was always thinking, always anticipating.
“He said that, in addition to the wallet contents you guys bagged,” Aguinaldo continued, “when they removed the body from the kayak, they were able to access a cargo pocket on his pants thigh with some loose cash in it. Mostly singles and a five. Also … one custom clay poker chip. Detective DeJesus texted me this photo of it.” She stepped up to the front and showed Heat the shot on her iPhone. “You can see it has a molded rim of a repeated hourglass design. And it’s purple.”
“That means it’s worth five hundred bucks,” said Feller. “I worked vice. Purple is the traditional color casinos use for five yards.”
“They haven’t run it for prints yet, but the RTCC traced this unique design and pattern to a place called Fortuna’s Wheel, per the Organized Crime Unit database.”
“Got to love those monster computers downtown,” said Heat.
“I know Fortuna’s Wheel,” said Rook.
Feller chimed in, “Me too. There’s a big not-so-secret secret gambling den in the basement. Very mob.”
“Run by my old friend and yours …” Rook slapped his knee and said to Nikki, “Fat Tommy.”
“He’s not my friend.” Then, as Heat wrote Fat Tommy’s name on the Murder Board, she added, “But I am going to renew my acquaintance with Mr. Tomasso Nicolosi this morning.” Then she turned to the group. “Time to make some assignments. Detective Aguinaldo: nice work following up on the chip. Since you did so well with the RTCC, contact them again. Lon King was an NYPD contractor, so have them run any threats against him. Then hit Personnel. Find out about family, next of kin, whomever. Pay his loved ones a visit and interview them about the usuals.”
Aguinaldo nodded as she made notes, saying, “Last seen, state of mind, friends and enemies, financial worries, affairs, drugs, drinking, unusual behavior.”
“Also ask about his kayaking. How often he did it, where he stored it, places he put in and liked to go.”
“And did he belong to a club or float with a regular buddy?” suggested Rhymer.
“Good thought, Opie,” said Nikki, using the clean-cut detective’s squad nickname. “And since you know a little bit about the sport, call DeJesus in Forensics and find out all there is to know about the boat. Not just fingerprints, hairs, and damage or wear to the hull, but maybe there’s a serial number that tells you where it was bought or perhaps a sticker from REI or Eastern Mountain Sports. If not, door-knock the local kayak retailers and outfitters. See if anyone knew King and if he hung out with anyone in that world. Visit the float and nature clubs, not just for members who knew him but for any habitual spots for a sunset excursion on a spring evening.”
“I didn’t see any paddle at the crime scene,” said Detective Rhymer. “Not sure what to do with that, but it’s worth noting. Also no cell phone on him.”
Taking her own advice that nothing is nothing, Heat posted that, too: “no paddle.” “Detective Feller, contact the NYPD Harbor Unit and the Coast Guard. Chances are, if they had seen anything, they would have responded, even if it was just because he was adrift, but ask anyway to cover the base. What we really want is what they have on any known barge or shipping traffic yesterday in the TOD window and after. Contact the shipping companies and talk to the captains, pilots, and crew. Might as well work in the Circle Line and the other tour and booze cruises while you’re at it. Somebody might have seen something they shrugged off but that would make sense now.”
“Coast Guard would also have accurate tide tables and currents,” Feller added. “I’ll check that, too.”
“How is my King of All Surveillance Media?” asked Nikki with a grin.
“Somehow, I knew this was coming,” said Raley, who had earned his title by breaking numerous cases over the years thanks to his talent for—and sheer tenacity in—scanning video recordings from surveillance cams.
“Really? Then what else do you know is coming?”
“Well, my liege, if His Highness was to guess, it would be a request to locate any cams that pick up pieces of the Hudson or other waters the kayak could have been on yesterday.”
“Uncanny,” said Heat. “And when you find footage, also look for shipping. Get the names of the vessels and share them with Randall to cross-check. Sadly, I’m going to have to separate you from your partner.”
Feller chuckled. “You’ll need a garden hose.”
“Detective Ochoa, I’d like you to visit Lon King’s practice on the Upper East Side.”
“On it,” he said. “Interview his receptionist and colleagues. Basically, the same drill Inez is doing with family, only at his workplace.”
“Right. We’re going to want to ask if they know about any disgruntled clients. It’s a sensitive area, since he dealt mostly with police officers past and present, but all possible motives need to be explored. Especially if any threats were made.”
Rook shifted in his chair and exhaled loudly. When Nikki turned to him, he said, “Sorry. Missed breakfast. I need a muffin.” He smiled thinly and looked away. She wondered what was up with him.
Ochoa said, “Captain?”
Which made Nikki glance to the back of the squad room, expecting to see the precinct commander watching in the doorway. But she quickly realized he was addressing her and chuckled. “Sorry. Not quite used to that,” she said. “Changes.”
“That’s what I wanted to ask about,” Miguel went on. “The squad wanted me to ask, actually. Now that your promotion has finally come down, have you made a decision about who will replace you as squad leader?”
Heat had anticipated this and took a moment to survey the five detectives surrounding her: one new addition, curious about who would be her new boss, and four veterans showing various degrees of eagerness to be the one chosen. “That’s a fair question. But this is my fair answer: I’ll make my appointment when I am ready.” Nikki saw the tide of dissatisfaction rising in the room and added, “Obviously, I’ve had some time to think about this. And, yes, I do have some leanings. But I’m two hours into my first official day. I haven’t even turned on the lights in my office yet. And now we have this case in which the victim is one of us. Or as close to being one of us as you can get. So I’m making a decision on the fly to keep one foot in this bull pen as we move the investigation forward. All while I juggle my new responsibilities. Which are considerable. So to backstop me, that is why I am naming—on a temporary basis—Miguel Ochoa and Sean Raley as interim squad co-leaders.”
To characterize the ensuing applause as a smattering might be generous. It began with Detective Aguinaldo and Rook. Rhymer and Feller joined in a few beats too late to be considered gracious. Raley and Ochoa regarded each other with a bit of surprise but only a bit of pleasure.
“I’m going to ask you to coordinate all your moves with Team Roach who, in turn, will coordinate with me,” Nikki concluded. “One more thing. This is the best homicide squad in the department. We are going to keep that good thing going. You have my word that, as soon as we wrap this case up, I will name your permanent squad leader to carry on the success of this group. Now. Let’s go find a killer.”
* * *
“Tell me about Lon King,” said Rook as Heat steered into the rotary at Columbus Circle on their way to brace Fat Tommy.
“What’s to tell? Like I said, he was the department shrink Wally Irons forced me to see. You know about that.”
“I do. I also know, down by the river this morning, you made it sound like you only went to your one assigned session.”
“So I went a few other times. The squad didn’t need to know my personal business. It’s not relevant.” Nikki cranked the wheel to turn onto Broadway, at the same time steering the conversation in a different direction. “Is that what’s been up your butt?”
“Speaking as one who ass-iduously self-monitors, last check, I detected nothing foreign.”
“If you say so. All I know is that I’ve been reading a vibe off you since we hit the crime scene.”
“By staring at my butt?”
“Joke it off if you want to, Rook. I know what I see.” At the stop light in front of the Ed Sullivan they sat in silence. Heat waited him out. Rook peered up at the Letterman marquee. “Is it the wedding plans? Am I pressing too hard?”
When the light changed, it became his turn to deflect. “Let’s talk about Management 101.”
“Just an observation from your loving spouse-to-be.”
“I already don’t like where this is going.”
He rested a gentle hand on her thigh and smiled. “Relax, just something to put in your head. Your squad is not only ambitious. My take is they’re also worried about loss of leadership.”
“Which is why I appointed Roach to run the shop.”
“Using the words temporary and interim in the same sentence, you anointed them. If they’re your guys, why not just pull the trigger?”
“Because I’m not sure.”
“So not like you,” said Rook, and he was right. In the months when Nikki had been kept on a string, wondering when the nod would come for her own promotion, she had done all sorts of forecasting about long-range goals as well as nuts-and-bolts thinking about the short term. She had drawn up wish lists and org charts in her head, some of which made it to paper or to her Evernote app. All her plans became the subject of continual revision and second-guessing as her own appointment process became ever more protracted. Now, on her first official day on the job, she had what golfers call the yips. Instead of hitting the ground running, she had balked.
“My original plan was to have Sean and Miguel share the job.”
“I can’t describe it. Overthinking. They have been in my squad the longest.”
“And they are amazing. When you let them take point on the murder of that old stockbroker on West End, they kicked ass. They even tied his missing maid into your skyfall case.”
“I’m hearing a yeah, but in your voice.” He regarded her. “Are you holding a grudge because they also gave you a ration of shit along the way?”
Nikki shook her head no. “All about passion for the job. They never made it personal, and we all came out better on the other side. Maybe it’s the partner idea. That made me reconsider. Then I started to choose, OK, which of the two? And then I saw nothing but a rift there. So then I started wondering whether they would be as good if I busted up the set. And that led me to wonder if a solo choice should put Feller in the running. And Rhymer.”
“Food truck!” Rook pointed to a produce delivery van with its blinker signaling a parking spot about to open up in front of Keen’s Chophouse. When Nikki had eased into the space and killed the engine, he said, “As your trusted advisor, may I make two observations?”
“First, careful consideration is one thing, but when you can’t make a decision, something else is going on.”
When he said it, the words made her feel exposed, affecting her in a way that resonated beyond the task at hand. “And second?”
“You’re going to make ’em scatter like cockroaches when you walk in this club dressed like that.” He chuckled and got out.
Fortuna’s Wheel sat mid-block, a former restaurant fronting the sidewalk between a watch repair shop and a nail salon that advertised foot rubs. The club’s original neon sign, dating from the 1940s, hung like a flag above a heavy wooden front door painted chocolate brown to match the faux-Tudor half-timbering inset in the tan stucco wall. At ground level the plaster was scalloped by ancient gingery piss stains of passing dogs and carefree drunks. The smell of CDC-strength disinfectant, already conspicuous from the street, prickled the backs of their throats as Heat and Rook entered the dim nightclub with an unwelcome blast of light.
As Rook had predicted, heads ducked low and back doors slammed as half of the dozen morning rummies in the place caught sight of Nikki’s captain’s uniform and scrammed. “Help you?” said the bartender, a big woman with an eyepatch. She didn’t sound like she meant it.
“I’m here to see Tomasso Nicolosi,” said Heat.
Just to be a smartass, Rook jerked a thumb toward Nikki in her uniform and added, “NYPD.”
After an exchange of whispered intercom chatter, a busboy opened a door for them hidden behind some heavy velvet curtains and they descended a winding oak staircase to the secret gaming parlor, which amounted to an unoccupied craps setup and seven poker tables, also not in use. The dusky lighting in the windowless basement put everything in shadow, but there was just enough to make out Fat Tommy sitting at a back booth in his signature circa-1979 tracksuit and oversized shades. The closer they got, though, it was apparent things had changed since they last saw him. “I’ve been sick,” he explained without being asked, even before a hello. Fat Tommy had slimmed down years before at his wife’s behest, but now he had gone beyond thin. Not only was Fat Tommy no longer fat, he’d become so emaciated he could hide behind a stack of poker chips. Instead of a mobster, he looked like ET in Jackie O’s sunglasses.
They took seats facing him. “Sorry to hear,” said Rook with genuine sadness. He had met Tommy years before while researching an article on the mid-level New York crime families, and the two had struck up an arms-length friendship. Subsequently, Rook had set Nikki up with confidential meetings to get information on cases from time to time, with nothing even close to a relationship developing between the detective and the hood.
“Yeah, well I’m gonna beat this.” Tommy slapped the table and laughed. “The fuck I will. Look at me. Say your good-byes.” In the awkward pause that followed, sounds of men and women laughing bled through a closed door behind him. “Friendly card game among friends. Nothing you need to worry about, right?”
Nikki took that as her opening. “We’re not here to hassle your little enterprise, Mr. Nicolosi.”
“Good. And Tommy would be nice.”
“I want to know if you recognize this man.” She held out her iPhone with the shrink’s ID photo on it. Fat Tommy lifted his sunglasses to give the pic a once-over and leaned back. “His name is Lon King. I have reason to believe he may have had a connection here. Perhaps as a customer.
“See, here’s the thing. This little enterprise, as you call it, is confidential. You know, discreet. Just like you.” He chuckled. “What are you dressed up for, the St. Paddy’s parade?”
When Heat gave him a stone face, Rook jumped in. “Tommy. The captain is here about a homicide.”
“Uh-huh. And you want to know if I had him whacked? The answer is no.”
Heat opened her notebook and uncapped her pen. “Then you did know him.”
“Now that I’m getting the drift that he’s dead, I’m not feeling the need to be so, um, circumspect.” He turned to Rook. “How’s that for vocab, writer boy?”
Nikki kept to her all-business tack. “And I can take that as your statement? You did indeed know him?”
Fat Tommy waved his hands in front of himself as if to warn off an oncoming car. “Let’s just get to it, all right? Yes, I knew him. Yes, he was a regular. No, I did not have anything to do with his death. It’s generally considered bad business to kill someone who owes you money.”
“How much did he owe you?” She held her pen poised.
“Thirty-two thousand, one hundred. I staked him for his losses.”
Rook said, “That’s a mighty big stake.”
The mobster shrugged. “Is it? Keeps them in the game’s another way to see it.”
“Do you recognize this?” Heat showed her cell phone shot of the custom poker chip that had led them there.
“It’s a fiver. I use them as coasters for my Ensure.”
“This one was found on Lon King’s body.”
“I gave it to him. Last week after he got cleaned out at Hold ’Em, I figured he shouldn’t leave with nothing.”
“It’s not like he could spend it anywhere. Are you that generous?” asked Nikki.
“Just a reminder of his debt.”
“Or intimidation?” she asked. Heat’s phone vibrated.
“Either way, see? It worked. He kept it on him.” He tapped her notepad with his forefinger. “Meanwhile, I’m out thirty-two large. Get that down.”
The buzz was a text from Ochoa. She showed it to Rook and they both immediately stood to go. “You guys got a plane to catch or something?”
Nikki flipped her spiral notebook closed. “I may be back in touch, Mr. Nicolosi.”
Fat Tommy mopped his mouth with a soiled handkerchief and called after them as they bounded up the creaking stairs. “Wouldn’t wait too long.”
* * *
The Crime Scene Unit hadn’t even gone in yet. When Nikki and Rook stepped off the elevator onto the twelfth floor of the medical tower where Lon King kept his practice, the CSU team was just bootying up in the hallway. Snapping on blue nitrile for the second time that morning, Captain Heat self-consciously returned their salute with a gloved hand and went inside.
Detective Ochoa saw them enter and handed off the sobbing receptionist to the uniformed policewoman he’d requested from the Nineteenth. As he crossed over to her, the sight of the young woman smacked her with a sudden rush of dread. Heat had been there for an appointment just two weeks before. How awkward would it be if the receptionist, Josie, recognized her and said something? Nikki positioned herself with her back to the lobby desk and drew Ochoa and Rook into the adjoining room. She knew it was only a stall. Heat would somehow have to try to deflect the receptionist’s familiarity, but later. Her immediate concern was what Ochoa could tell her about the burglary, in hopes it would give up a clue to finding Lon King’s killer.
“So here’s how it came down,” began the detective. “I got here at ten of nine and waited in the hall for King’s receptionist … Josie,” he said after consulting his notes. “I ID’d myself, told her I needed a moment of her time, she unlocked the door, we came in, and, as you saw, the news hit her hard.”
“The break-in wasn’t apparent right away?” asked Heat.
“It was and it wasn’t. The girl was distracted—obviously—by the ton of bricks I dropped on her. So it wasn’t until a few minutes into my interview, after she started to recover, that she noticed some of the things in the place were out of whack. We did some room-to-room checking, and that’s when we knew there’d been a B&E overnight.”
Nikki surveyed the room they were standing in, the one King used for counseling sessions. She’d been in there fewer than ten times over the last three years, yet it appeared as tranquil and welcoming as ever. “Doesn’t appear tossed to me.” Then she added, “Going from memory.”
“You’d have to know what to look for.” Ochoa walked them past the psychologist’s overstuffed chair to the small desk off to the side. “Josie said there was a laptop there that’s gone.”
“Any chance the doctor could have taken it with him or come back for it?” asked Rook.
“I wondered the same. She says no. The MacBook stayed there all the time. He didn’t like lugging them and always used the cloud or thumb drives. To that point, the rest of the room is neat, no hacked-open pillows or tossed books off the shelves, right? But check it out …” Ochoa carefully slid open the single desk drawer by its edges instead of the handle, using the fingertips of his gloved hands. The slim drawer was a mess: spilled paperclips ripped from a box, a tangle of pencils and pens upended out of a teak tray, a torn deck of gold Kem playing cards, even a matchbox from The Dutch had been poked open and shaken empty.
Heat said, “A search for thumb drives?”
“A safe bet,” said Ochoa. “Josie says he kept them in this drawer, but in one of those leather zip pouches from that froufrou stationery-geek catalog.”
“Levenger?” said Rook, a little too quickly.
Ochoa shook his head and groaned, “Oh, man. So busted.” Then the detective led the way out of the room. “Let’s see if Josie’s up for showing you the rest.” Since the encounter would come sooner or later, Nikki followed behind to get it over with. She had a homicide investigation to conduct and couldn’t do the job if she hid from witnesses for personal reasons. It might have been better, though, she thought, if only Rook hadn’t been along today.
“Josie,” said Detective Ochoa, “this is my precinct commander, Captain Heat.”
Lon King’s receptionist looked up from a deep-trauma stare at Nikki. The two women made eye contact and, in it, Heat saw clear recognition. But then came something unexpected. The young woman extended a hand to shake and said only, “Hello.” While she watched Josie give Rook a similarly polite, neutral greeting, Heat wondered, was it training or common sense not to out the client of a psychologist? Whether it was due to professionalism or courtesy, Nikki was grateful for the discretion and embarked on the rest of the tour undistracted.
As with the counseling room, the other areas of the office suite had been disturbed, not ransacked. Whoever did it wanted something specific. This was a surgical strike. “Josie, did Dr. King keep any drugs here? Prescription meds, I mean?” asked Nikki.
“No, he counseled only and didn’t prescribe. Not even any samples.”
The spilled playing cards in the desk made Heat think about the jumbo debt to Fat Tommy. “What about money? Did he keep any cash here, perhaps in a safe or locked drawer?”
„Ich bin wirklich begeistert. Auch die Möglichkeit des zusätzlichen eReaders im Abo finde ich persönlich toll.”
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