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Authors: Linda Fairstein

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Cold Hit

BOOK: Cold Hit
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The third in Linda Fairstein’s gripping and authentic series of crime novels featuring Assistant D.A. Alexandra
Cooper. With aplomb, style and sharp compassion for her “clients” Coop again unravels the truth behind murder
in partnership with homicide detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace. The victim is Deni Caxton, third wife
to the heir of a steel baron and a leading New York art dealer in her own right. As Coop, Chapman and Mercer
investigate her brutal killing they strip away the elegant and refined façade of her marriage and the
international art world to reveal a tangle of cut-throat business dealings, over blown egos and distorted
passions. They find that the rich have the same motives for murder as the poorest killer — money, revenge, love
and hate — and they rapidly discover that a veneer of artistic ‘civilisation’ doesn’t prevent the use of
blackmail or violence, not even when officers of the law stand in the way.



Linda Fairstein


The third book in the Alex Cooper series
Copyright © 1999 by Linda Fairstein




Best friend forever



I am spellbound by the mystery of murder.

— Weegee (Arthur Fellig)







It was after eight o’clock, and all I could see of the sun was its gleaming crown as it slipped behind the row of steep cliffs, giving off an iridescent pink haze that signaled the end of a long August day. Brackish gray water swirled and broke against the large rocks that edged the mound of dirt on which I stood, spitting up at my ankles as I stared out to the west at the Palisades. The pleats of my white linen skirt, which had seemed so cool and weightless as I moved about the air-conditioned courtroom all afternoon, were plastered against my thighs by the humidity, and I swatted off the mosquitoes as they searched for a place to land on my forearms.

I turned away from the striking vista across the Hudson River and glanced down at the body of the woman that had snagged on the boulders less than an hour earlier.

The detective from the Crime Scene Unit reloaded his camera and took another dozen shots. “Want a couple of Polaroids to work from till I get you a full set of blowups?” I nodded to him as he changed equipment, leaned in above the head of his partially clothed subject, and set off the flash attachment.

The old guy with the fishing rod who had made the grim discovery was twitching nervously while he answered questions hurled at him in Spanish by a young uniformed cop from the Thirty-fourth Precinct. The officer pointed at something bulging in the man’s pocket, and the fisherman’s free hand shook uncontrollably as he pulled out a small flask of red wine.

“Tell him to relax, Carrera,” Detective Mike Chapman called over to the rookie. “Tell him this one’s a keeper. Catch of the day. Haven’t seen anything this clean pulled out of these waters since Rip Van Winkle used it as a bathtub.”

Chapman and his good friend Mercer Wallace had been talking with each other from the time Mercer and I reached the site ten minutes earlier. They had walked away from me so that Lieutenant Peterson could fill Mercer in on what he and Mike had learned since being called to the scene, while I stood at the woman’s feet, staring down at her from time to time, half hoping she would open her eyes and speak to us. We were all waiting for one of the medical examiners to arrive and take a look at the body so it could be bagged and removed from this desolate strip of earth on Manhattan’s northernmost tip before onlookers began to gather.

Hal Sherman rested his camera on top of the evidence collection bag and wiped the rivulets of sweat off his neck. “How’d you get here so fast?” he asked me.

“Mike was reaching out for Mercer to help him on this one and got me in the deal. Mercer was down in court with me for pretrial hearings in an old case when Mike beeped him. Said he had a floater with a possible sexual assault, and he wanted Mercer to look at her.”

“Tell the truth, kid. You couldn’t resist a night on the town with the big guys, could you, blondie?” Chapman asked, after coming over to check whether Sherman had finished the photography. “Hey, Hal, who’s the guy seems like he’s about to lose his lunch over there?”

We all turned to look at the man, not more than twenty-five years old, who was leaning against a large boulder, taking in deep breaths of air and cupping one hand over his mouth. “Reporter for the
, fresh out of journalism school. This is his third assignment, tailing me around to see how we process a crime scene. Two burglaries in the diamond district, one arson in a high school, and now — Ophelia.”

Chapman went into a squat next to the right side of the woman’s head, impatient with the presence of amateurs as he set to work on what was clearly the start of a homicide investigation. “Tell him he ought to look into getting the gig for restaurant reviews, Hal. Much easier on the gut.”

I stepped closer to watch Chapman go over the corpse again, this time as he concentrated on details that he had observed before our arrival and explained them to Mercer Wallace. The two had been partners for several years in Manhattan North’s Homicide Squad, where Chapman still worked, until Mercer had transferred over to Special Victims to handle rape cases. Despite the differences in their backgrounds and manner, they came together seamlessly to work at a crime scene or on a murder investigation.

Mercer, at forty, was five years older than Mike and I. He was one of a handful of African American detectives who had made first grade in the department, a detail man whom every senior prosecutor liked to count on, in the field and on the witness stand, to build a meticulous case. He was as solid as a linebacker but had passed up a football scholarship at Michigan to join the NYPD. Slower to smile than Mike Chapman, Mercer was intense and steady, with a sweetness of disposition that was, for those shattered victims who encountered him, their first lifeline back to a world of normalcy.

Mike Chapman was just over six feet tall, a bit shorter than Mercer. His jet black hair framed his lean face, momentarily somber as he reviewed the dead woman in front of him. A graduate of Fordham College, where he worked his way through school as a waiter and bartender, Mike had never wavered in his determination to follow the career path of his adored father, who had been a cop for more than a quarter of a century. He had a grin that could coax me out of almost any mood, and an encyclopedic knowledge of American history and military affairs, which had been his major concentration while in school.

“Four-point restraint,” Chapman began, focusing his pen like a pointer in a college classroom. The slender body was resting on a wooden ladder about eight feet long. The victim’s ankles and wrists were bound to narrow rungs above her head and below her feet. The cord used to hold the woman in place was firmly knotted and secured. Longer pieces of a thicker rope dangled from parts of the frame, and two of them still had rocks attached to their tips.

Mercer was bending over now, looking at the extremities from every angle. “Somebody went to an awful lot of trouble to make sure this body didn’t come to the surface anytime before Christmas, wouldn’t you say?”

He tugged at one of the loose lengths of rope, holding up the ragged end, from which it appeared a weight — perhaps another rock — had torn free.

Over the top of his head I could see Craig Fleisher, the oncall medical examiner, walking toward us. He waved and added, “Better move quickly, the vultures are gathering.” Next to his parked car the satellite dish sitting above a Fox 5 television truck was suddenly visible. The first field reporter had already picked up word of the unusual find from a police scanner, and it would take only minutes before other camera crews joined him to try to get the most salacious shot of the corpse.

“What have you got, Mike? A drowning?” Fleisher asked.

“No way, Doc. Throwing her overboard was just a means of disposing of the body.” We all leaned in closer as Chapman placed his hand on the crown of the woman’s head and moved it slightly to the side. He slipped his pen beneath her matted black hair, which was still wet and splayed against the wooden crosspieces of the ladder, then lifted it gently to expose the scalp. “Skull was bashed in back here, maybe with a gun butt or hammer. I’d bet you’ll find a fracture or two when you get in there tomorrow.”

Fleisher studied the gaping wound. He was stone-faced and calm, running his fingers over the rest of the rear of the head. “Well, she wasn’t in the water very long. Only a day or two at best.”

He repeated what Chapman had told us when Mercer and I arrived. There was no putrefaction or decomposition, and the bruises he noted on her body were probably antemortem. “Fish and crabs usually get to work on the soft tissue pretty quickly,” he explained, “but the face is completely intact here. Seems like they didn’t have much of a chance.”

Fleisher had trained in San Diego, so although he was a recent hire in New York, he was quite familiar with marine deaths.

“Could be our lucky break, Doc,” Chapman said. “The killer — or killers — couldn’t have picked a worse place to dump a body if they expected to keep it from surfacing.”

The doctor straightened up and scanned the area — a barren headland, just thirty feet long, that sat at the end of a city street, nestled between Columbia University’s Baker Field and below the toll bridge leading north out of Manhattan, to the Bronx. “That water sure looks angry, doesn’t it?”

“Spuyten Duyvil,” said Chapman. “Welcome to the neighborhood. It’s an old Dutch name for this tidal strait that connects the Harlem and Hudson Rivers, separates us from the mainland.”

Mike knew the background as well as I did. Settlers in New Amsterdam had called it that in the early 1600s.
In spite of the devil
, they said, because the waters were so very rough, rocked by the tides in both directions. Passage through it had been impossible for centuries, until the government cut a canal almost one hundred years ago.

“Not that you’ll see any Dutchmen around here now, Doc. Rice and beans replaced Heineken’s a few years back, if you know what I mean. But they named it well.”

The kid reporter had gotten to his feet and come up behind me, out of direct view of the body but close enough to listen to the conversation and jot down what we were saying.

“You mind not putting anything on paper for the time being?” Chapman asked, in a voice that was more of an order than a question. “You’d be required to give your scribbled musings to Miss Cooper here. It would become discovery material for the trial and she’d have to turn your notes over to the defense, once we catch the prick who did this.”

“But, but I’m — uh — there’s a privil—”

“You want to wait in the car while we do this, or you want to stand here quietly like a good scout and count on your memory to get this right? The local history you can find in a book, the current events are off the record. Start with the fact that she’s got a crater the size of a teacup in the back of her head and that nobody planned on her doing any laps once she hit the water. Now keep out of my way. Understood?”

Chapman turned back to our small group, which was huddled around the body. Only the police divers, dressed in their scuba gear and holding for directions, stood off to the side as the rest of us waited for Fleisher to finish his inspection. Wallace had sent Officer Carrera up to his radio car to get a blanket, and he and another cop were holding it open as a shield between the dead woman and the curious busybodies who were gathering on 207th Street. He opened his cell phone and called the local precinct for crowd control backup as the news crew moved up within feet of our operation.

“Who’s the blonde?” I heard the Fox 5 news reporter ask his cameraman.

“Alexandra Cooper. District Attorney’s Office. Runs the Sex Crimes Unit for the D.A., Paul Battaglia. Probably means the cops think the deceased was raped. They always bring her in on those cases.”

I wanted to hear what else the cameraman was going to say about our work, but Fleisher was talking again and I focused back on his remarks.

“You’ve got a female Caucasian who I’d guess to be in her late thirties.” I had recently turned thirty-five, and I peered down at the frozen gaze of the woman, wondering what had brought her to this violent end, so prematurely. “I’m not going to turn her over or do any more work here, gentlemen. Too many eyes. But I’m certain the cause will be blunt force trauma — that blow to the head which Chapman located for us. I don’t think we’ll find any signs at autopsy that she was alive when she was submerged.”

Fleisher went on. “Possible sexual assault. We’ll be checking the vaginal vault for abrasions. I would doubt there’ll be seminal fluid of value, once the seawater invaded. Hard to tell whether the missing clothes suggest rape or the rough current ripping them out of place.”

The well-toned body of the young woman still had a beige silk shell covering her bra, and a skirt of the same material. Both had tears and rips in the fine fabric. But there were no underpants, and I noticed what appeared to be finger marks embedded in the skin of her inner thighs.

BOOK: Cold Hit
10.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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