I Can See You
Minneapolis, Sunday, February 21, 6:35 p.m.
Homicide detective Noah Webster stared up into the wide, lifeless eyes of Martha Brisbane with a sigh that hung in the freezing air, just as she did. Within him was deep sadness, cold rage, and an awful dread that had his heart plodding hard in his chest.
It should have been an unremarkable crime scene. Martha Brisbane had hung herself in the conventional way. She'd looped a rope over a hook in her bedroom ceiling and tied a very traditional noose. She'd climbed up on an upholstered stool, which she'd then kicked aside. The only thing remotely untraditional was the bedroom window she'd left open and the thermostats she'd turned off. The Minnesota winter had served to preserve her body well. Establishing time of death would be a bitch.
Like many hangers, she was dressed for the occasion, makeup applied with a heavy hand. Her red dress plunged daringly, the skirt frozen around her dangling legs. She'd worn her sexiest five-inch red stilettos, which now lay on the carpet at her feet. One red shoe had fallen on its side while the other stood upright, the heel stuck into the carpet.
It should have been an unremarkable crime scene.
But it wasn't. And as he stared up into the victim's empty eyes, a chill that had nothing to do with the near-zero temps in Martha Brisbane's bedroom went sliding down his spine. They were supposed to believe she'd hung herself. They were supposed to chalk it up to one more depressed, middle-aged single woman. They were supposed to close the case and walk away, without a second thought.
At least that's what the one who'd hung her here had intended. And why not? That's exactly what had happened before.
“The neighbor found her,” the first responding officer said. “CSU is on the way. So are the ME techs. Do you need anything else?”
Anything else to close it quickly, was the implication. Noah forced his eyes from the body to look at the officer. “The window, Officer Pratt. Was it open when you got here?”
Pratt frowned slightly. “Yes. Nobody touched anything.”
“The neighbor who called it in,” Noah pressed. “She didn't open the window?”
“She didn't enter the apartment. She tried knocking on the door but the victim didn't answer, so she went around back, planning to bang on the window. She thought the victim would be asleep since she works nights. Instead, she saw this. Why?”
Because I've seen this scene before, he thought, déjà vu squeezing his chest so hard he could barely breathe. The body, the stool, the open window. Her dress and shoes, one standing up, one lying on its side. And her eyes.
Noah hadn't been able to forget the last victim's eyes, lids glued open, cruelly forced to remain wide and empty. This was going to be very bad. Very bad indeed.
“See if you can find the building manager,” he said. “I'll wait for CSU and the ME.”
Officer Pratt gave him a sharp look. “And Detective GQ?”
Noah winced. That Jack Phelps wasn't here yet was not, unfortunately, unusual. His partner had been distracted recently. Which was the polite way of saying he'd dropped the ball more than a few times.
“Detective Phelps is on his way,” he said, with more confidence than he felt.
Pratt grunted as he left in search of the manager and Noah felt a twinge of sympathy for Jack. Officers who'd never met Jack disrespected him. Thanks to that magazine. A recent article on the homicide squad had portrayed them as supermen. But Jack had borne the brunt, his face adorning the damn cover.
But Jack's rep as a party-loving lightweight started long before the magazine hit the stands three weeks before and it was a shame. Focused, Jack Phelps was a good cop. Noah knew his partner had a quick mind, seeing connections others passed over.
Noah looked up into Martha Brisbane's empty eyes. They were going to need all the quick minds they could get.
His cell buzzed. Jack. But it was his cousin Brock, from whose dinner table Noah had been called. Brock and his wife Trina were cops, they'd taken it in stride. In a family of cops, it was a rare Sunday dinner when one of them wasn't called away.
“I'm tied up,” Noah answered, bypassing greeting.
“So is your partner,” Brock responded. Brock had been headed to Sal's Bar to watch the game. Which meant that Jack was at Sal's too. Damn him.
“I've called him twice,” Noah gritted. Both calls had gone to Jack's voicemail.
“He's having drinks with his newest blonde. You want me to talk to him?”
Noah looked up at Martha Brisbane's lifeless eyes and his anger bubbled tightly. It wasn't the first time Jack had blown off his duty, but by God, it would be his last. “No. I'm going to get the first responder back in here and come down there myself.”
Copyright © 2009, Karen Rose Books, Inc.