You Can't Hide

Excerpt

Chapter One

Chicago, Sunday, March 12, 12:30 a.m.

Normally a suicide drew a bigger crowd, even in a high priced neighborhood like this one, Detective Aidan Reagan thought grimly as he slammed his car door and flinched at the bite of the cold air blowing in from the lake. But most people with any sense were inside on a night like this. Aidan couldn't afford the luxury. Dispatch called and he and his partner were next in the barrel.

For a damn suicide. This was a distraction from the child homicide he'd spent the last two days working. He hated child homicides but he thought he might hate suicides just a little bit more. He could only hope he could get this jumper off his desk quickly so he could focus on finding who'd broken a six-year-old's neck like a dry twig.

The people who watched from the curb appeared to be twenty-somethings coming home from a night on the town. They waited silently, eyes fastened to the scene with a morbid mixture of horror, fascination, and sympathy. The horror Aidan understood. No body was a pretty sight, but a plunge twenty-two stories was a step beyond generic gruesomeness. As for the sympathy, Aidan would save his for the real victims. Whoever said suicide was a victimless crime had obviously never notified a family.

He had.

He wished the morbid curiosity seekers could see that part of it. They might not find such a scene so damn fascinating after all. But they were well-behaved at least, standing silently behind the yellow tape strung between two light posts by the officers first on the scene. An occasional stamp of cold feet broke the unnatural silence. One of the two uniforms stood at the yellow tape at the curb, the other stood on the sidewalk, facing away from the body.

Aidan approached, his shield in his hand. After four months it still felt strange, approaching the uniform, not wearing one. "Reagan, Homicide," he said crisply, then stopped short, first at the stench, then at the sight. The stomach he'd have sworn was seasoned after twelve years on the force took a nasty lurch. "My God."

The uniform nodded, his jaw tight. "That's what we said."

Aidan's eyes took a quick trip up the wall of identical balconies and back down to focus on the iron spike protruding from what had been a woman's chest. Now her chest was ripped open, revealing shattered bone and insides. For just a moment he stared, remembering the other time he'd seen such a sight. He steeled his spine. This was nothing like the other. That other victim had been an innocent. This woman lying here, she was dead by her own hand. No sympathy, he told himself.

This woman had thrown herself twenty-two stories to concrete--and onto a decorative wrought iron fence. The fence was only about a foot high, mostly inverted U's, but every four feet or so a spike jutted upward. The force of her impact on the spike had literally split her wide open, geysering blood to splatter a dirty pile of snow three feet away. "She hit it dead on," he murmured.

The uniform winced. "So to speak."

Aidan dragged his gaze back to the cop's drawn face. "You are?"

"I'm Forbes and that's my partner, DiBello, over there doing crowd control." Forbes grimaced. "I lost the toss."

Aidan scanned the faces of the silent crowd which needed no control, but hell, a toss was a toss. He'd lost his fair share during his years in uniform. "Anybody see anything?"

"Two seventeen-year-olds say she jumped from the twenty-second floor at about midnight." Forbes pointed a black gloved finger upward. "It's that balcony up there, the one with the curtains blowing in the wind, third from the left."

"Nobody pushed her?"

"Kids didn't see anybody. They said she kind of glided up to the railing."

Aidan frowned. "Glided up? Like a ghost?"

Forbes shrugged. "That's what they said. Kept repeating it, again and again. I put 'em in the back of the squad car until you could talk to them. They're pretty shook up."

"Poor kids." They deserved the sympathy. This sight would haunt them for a long time. They were only seventeen, just a year older than his own sister. He shuddered at the thought of Rachel seeing such a grisly sight, jerked a nod toward the crowd. "Any of them know her?"

"DiBello asked, but nobody did."

Aidan looked at the woman's face, her features now loose and spongy. Blood seeped from her ears, nose and her open mouth. The iron fence had taken the brunt of the force of her fall, but any fall from that height smashed the skull, the scalp basically containing the mess. The features kind of liquefied, giving the face a macabre, melted wax look. "Nobody would recognize her now, even if they did know her. We'll need to get into the apartment she jumped from. Is the super around?"

"I knocked but he's not home. A neighbor says he's at a Bulls game."

"The game was over two hours ago. Where is he now?"

"I paged him once. I'll see if I can find out where he hangs."

"Thanks, man. Also, can we move this crowd to the other side of the street? And make sure nobody in the crowd takes any pictures. Have your partner keep his eyes open for camera cell phones." Aidan pulled out his own cell and called in for a warrant and an ME, then crouched down to take a closer look at the body. She was wrapped in black lace and silk and he wondered if she'd dressed especially for the occasion. If she had, the effect was ruined by the spike. He swallowed hard. And the guts oozing onto the concrete. It was a hell of a mess for someone to clean up. That was the problem with suicides, he thought bitterly. They wanted to go out with dramatic flair but they never thought about the consequences to anybody else. To the people they left behind. To the people who had to clean up.

So damn selfish. And avoidable. Goddammit.

He realized he'd clenched his fists and deliberately loosened them. Get a grip, Reagan. The deep breath he drew filled his senses with the metallic scent of warm blood and foul stench of busted bowel, but he underneath he caught a hint of cinnamon as footsteps crunched the snow behind him. His partner was here.

"Hell of a way to go," Murphy stated in his quiet way.

Aidan shot a harsh glance over his shoulder. "Hell of a thing to do to her family. Can't wait to make that visit."

"One thing at a time, Aidan," Murphy said evenly, but his eyes were kind and understanding and made Aidan feel small. "So what do we know?"

"Only that she jumped from the twenty-second floor. Two witnesses say she 'glided' up, whatever the hell that means. I haven't talked to them yet. As for her, she was young. Her arms look well-toned." He focused in on her limbs, the only body parts that remained reasonably unscathed. "Maybe in her late twenties or early thirties." He pointed at one hand that draped over the inverted U's of the decorative fence. "Big rock on her right hand, no sign of any rings on her left, so she's probably unmarried. Somebody has some money. That ring costs a hell of a lot of green, unless it's a cubic. Her arms and hands don't appear to have any defensive wounds."

Murphy crouched down next to him. "Snazzy colors."

Her two-inch long nails were painted bright, blood red. "I noticed. The red against the black lace does make a real statement."

Murphy shrugged. "It wouldn't be the first time a jumper wanted to leave a lasting impression. Nobody knows her?"

Aidan pushed to his feet. "No. I'm hoping the apartment she jumped from was hers. I called in for a warrant and the ME's on his way. Let's go talk to the kids who - "

"Let me pass." The voice cut through the night, soft, yet ringing with authority.

"Ma'am, you can't go through here. Please stay behind the tape."

Aidan looked up in time to see Officer DiBello's arm come up to block a woman in a tan wool coat, her dark hair whipping in the wind to cover her face.

Again she spoke, her voice calm and quiet but commanding. "I'm her doctor. Let me pass, Officer."

"Let her through," Murphy echoed and DiBello did, but Aidan stepped into the woman's path, blocking her once again before she could contaminate his scene. She lifted on her toes, but still wasn't quite tall enough to see over his shoulder. Aidan put his hand on her shoulder and gently pushed her back down. She stiffened, but cooperated.

"Ma'am, we're waiting for the ME. There's nothing you can do now."

She took a step back, going very still. "She jumped?"

Aidan nodded. "I'm sorry, ma'am. Maybe you can tell us..." But the words just trailed away as she pushed her hair from her face and instant recognition sent a new wave of anger to boil his blood. "You're Ciccotelli." Dr. Tess Ciccotelli. This woman was no doctor. She was a shrink. That alone would have been bad enough, but Miz Chick had made quite a name for herself.

She wasn't just a garden variety do-you-hate-your-mother shrink. She was a bleeding heart shrink who'd thrown weeks of solid police work in the chipper-shredder when she'd sat on the stand and calmly testified that a known, confessed killer of three children and one cop was unfit to stand trial. Four grieving families were denied justice because a 'doctor' said a killer was insane.

Of course the bastard was insane. He'd confessed to brutally murdering three little girls. Babies. With his bare hands he'd strangled a seasoned cop that was trying to take him down. That he was crazy didn't make him an iota less guilty. Now the bastard was sitting pretty in a Chicago psychiatric hospital making pot holders all day instead of in a six-by-eight waiting for a needle in his arm. It wasn't fair. It wasn't right. But it had happened. And this woman had allowed it to happen.

Aidan been there, sitting in the courtroom with the other cops, hoping against hope that Ciccotelli would change her mind, hoping she'd do the right thing. He remembered how the girls' parents had wept quietly in the courtroom, knowing they'd find no justice that day. How the cop's wife had sat front and center, surrounded by a sea of supportive uniforms. Ciccotelli hadn't blinked, just continued looking straight ahead with cool brown eyes.

Just like she was looking at him now. "And you are?" she asked.

"Detective Reagan. This is my partner Detective Murphy."

Her eyes narrowed slightly as she studied his face and it was all he could do to maintain his glare. From his seat in the courtroom she'd been sleek, sophisticated. Unapproachable. Up close there was a wild beauty to her features, yet she was still unapproachable. His own eyes narrowed as she turned to Murphy. "Todd, please ask your partner to step aside. I can at least give you a positive ID."

Murphy grasped her arm gently. "Tess, you don't want to do that. She's … She's really messed up."

Aidan stepped aside, holding out his arm in mock gallantry. "If she wants to see, by all means let the good doctor look."

Murphy shot him a warning glare. "Aidan."

"It's all right, Todd," she murmured and stepped forward without a flinch. She stood looking down at the body for a good minute before turning back to them, her face perfectly composed, her eyes still cool. "Her name was Cynthia Adams. She has no next of kin." From her coat pocket she pulled a business card and handed it to Murphy without a tremor. "Call me if you have questions," she said. "I'll answer what I can."

And with that she turned away and started walking toward a grey Mercedes parked behind Murphy's plain Ford. Aidan's annoyance bubbled over.

"And that's it?"

"Aidan," Murphy cautioned. "Not now."

"If not now, when?" He controlled his voice, conscious of the crowd camped nearby. "She waltzes in here and ID's the victim, cool as a damn cucumber. And then she just walks away? How about what made her jump twenty-two stories, Doctor? You should know, shouldn't you?" And you should care, dammit, he thought viciously. You should care about something. Somebody should care about this dead woman. And it made him furious to realize that he did. "What the hell kind of doctor are you?" he finished on a hiss and watched her pause, her hands deep in her pockets.

She pulled a glove from her pocket and tugged it over her fingers, her back to them. "Call me if you need me, Todd," was all she said before walking away.

Murphy's eyes flashed as he sucked in both cheeks. "Aidan, I told you not now.”

Aidan turned on his heel, dismissing her. "What does it matter? It's not like she gives a damn anyway."

"You have no idea what you're talking about. You don't know her."

Aidan looked over his shoulder. Murphy was watching Ciccotelli cross the street, his face one big, wholly uncharacteristic scowl. "And you do?" He wouldn't have expected it. The venerable Todd Murphy, fallen prey to the charms of a cold piece of work like Miz Chick. Well, I won't.

Murphy blew out an angry breath that turned to vapor, a barrier hovering between them for an instant of time. Then the barrier was gone as was the scowl, leaving Murphy staring at Ciccotelli with a sadness that gave Aidan serious pause. "Yeah. As a matter of fact I do. Go talk to the teenagers, Aidan. I'll be back in a minute."

Aidan shrugged away his uncertainty. Let Murphy deal with the icicle. He had other things to do, like process a crime scene so the ME could scoop up what was left of Cynthia Adams and they could all go home. He'd take the teenagers' statement, check her apartment for ID and then he'd get the hell out of here.

***

Another minute. Just another minute. Tess Ciccotelli chanted the words in her mind, a mantra to keep her composure until she was alone. Cynthia was dead. Dear God. Lying on the street, ripped apart.

Don't think about her. Don't think about her dead and mutilated. Just run. Run fast. Just another minute. Then you can fall apart, Tess. But not yet.

She fumbled the key in the door lock, conscious of Todd Murphy and his partner behind her, watching. Todd and his very angry partner, whoever he was. He's said his name was Reagan, she remembered, finally getting the key to slide in the lock, pulling the door open. She made her mind focus on the picture of the man's cold blue eyes. He'd been so angry. No, he'd been furious. Just another -

"Tess?"

Dammit. She bobbled her keys, dropping them to the dark street where they skittered underneath her car. She drew a deep breath. So close. "I'm all right, Todd. Go and do your job."

"I am. Tess, you're shaking."

She was now. Dammit to hell. "Todd, please." Her voice hitched, humiliatingly. "Leave me alone. I need to get out of here."

He took her arm and guided her into the driver's seat. "You shouldn't drive, Tess. Let me call somebody to get you home."

"There isn't anyone," she said numbly. "That's what took me so long to get here. I called my partners, my friends. I never come to a patient's house alone. Not done. Not ethical." She was rambling now and couldn't seem to stop herself. "Nobody was home, so I came anyway." She closed her eyes. Opened them again when all she saw was Cynthia, lying there. "And I was too late."

"This isn't your fault, Tess," Murphy said gently. "You know this."

A sob was building. Resolutely Tess shoved it back. "She's dead, Todd." How stupid was that? Cynthia Adams lay gutted on the street, her head a ball of jello, her guts hanging out for all to see. Yeah, she was dead all right.

"I know." He took her hand, gave it a squeeze. "How did you know to come tonight, Tess? Did she call you?"

Tess shook her head. "No. I got an anonymous call from one of her neighbors."

"Why did she jump?"

His voice was calm, so gentle, battering the dam that kept her tears at bay. "Dammit, Todd, let me go. Please. I'll talk to you tomorrow, I promise."

"I won't let you go until I'm sure you're all right."

Tess drew another deep breath and let it out slowly. Gripped her steering wheel with both hands. And lifted her gaze over Murphy's shoulder to where his partner stood next to a squad car, his hard face illuminated by its bright flashing lights. He was looking at them. Watching her. Even from this distance, she could feel the man's piercing stare. His animosity. Those intense blue eyes were narrowed, his jaw tight. "You have a new partner," she murmured, holding her gaze steady, as did Reagan.

"Yes. Aidan Reagan."

Aidan Reagan. "He's related to Abe?" She knew Abe Reagan, trusted him. Trusted his wife Kristen. They were good people.

"Aidan and Abe are brothers."

"That makes sense then." Aidan Reagan mirrored his brother's dark good looks. They had the same dark hair, the same blue eyes, although Aidan's were harder, starker than his brother's. His face was sharper, his jaw a little squarer. His mouth softer before he'd realized who she was. He had the capacity for compassion. Just not toward me.

"Tess, he--" Murphy's voice stumbled to a halt.

"Didn't like me," she said levelly. "It's all right, Todd. Not many of them do."

His sigh was deep and sad. "He was there, Tess, in the courtroom that day."

Murphy didn't have to say which courtroom. They both knew. Harold Green had murdered three little girls, brutally. But the homeless man hadn't seen little six-year-old girls with blonde pigtails and toothless grins. He'd seen demons with bloody fangs coming to devour him. She'd been skeptical herself at first, but after hours of observation and consultations with the free clinic doctors who'd treated Harold Green's acute schizophrenia over so many years, she believed him. He was quite truly insane. And so being, according to the law was not responsible for his actions. So she'd testified, barely managing to keep her eyes cool, her voice level, despite the dozens of faces who stared at her with contempt.

They thought she was cold, all the cops who'd packed the courtroom that day. They thought she was easily duped by a killer. They thought she'd sat unmoved while the mothers of those little girls wept so pitifully.

They'd been so very wrong.

That Detective Aidan Reagan had been among them explained a great deal. Across the road, Reagan still stood, still stared with a disdain he didn't try to hide. Tess was the first to break eye contact, returning her gaze to Murphy's worried face. "I see."

"No, you don't. Not entirely. He found the third girl."

She gripped the steering wheel tighter. She'd been the one with Green that day, the one to extricate the location of the third little girl. He'd said the child was alive. But when the police had arrived, they found she was not. She hadn't known who found the child. She hadn't really wanted to know. That she had been too late for that little girl had been a bitter pill to swallow.

How much more so for the man who'd found that baby's lifeless little body? "Then that really does explain a great deal. He's entitled to his anger."

"He's a good man, Tess. A good cop."

She nodded. "It's all right, Todd. I really do understand." And she did. More than anyone realized. "Can you get my keys? They fell under the car."

Murphy sighed. "Okay. I'll call you tomorrow. I'm going to need access to Cynthia Adams's file." He felt the pavement under her car and came up with her key ring.

Tess nodded, feeling some small measure of relief when her engine reliably roared to life. She started to close the door, then stopped. "Tell your partner…" Whatever she might say would make no difference. "Never mind. Thank you, Todd. As usual."

Her hands trembled as she pulled from the curb. She gave herself three blocks, then pulled into a side alley, let her forehead drop to the wheel and let the tears come. Dammit, Cynthia. Why didn't you call me? Why did you do this to yourself?

But she knew why. Just as she knew there was nothing she could have done to stop the woman. She helped the clients that wanted to be helped. The others would do what they would do. She knew this. But the knowing never stopped the grieving.

Cynthia Adams had led a life of pain and twisted guilt for events over which she'd had no control. But she'd controlled her own death. There was irony in that.

Drained and exhausted, Tess pulled away from the alley and pointed her car toward her apartment. There would be no rest tonight. Cynthia's file was inches thick. It would take more than a few hours to pull out the relevant facts for Todd Murphy and his angry partner. It was the least she could do, for Aidan Reagan and for Cynthia Adams.

And maybe for herself.

****

Copyright © 2006, Karen Rose Books, Inc.