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Authors: Linda Fairstein

Killer Heat

BOOK: Killer Heat
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Killer Heat
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Killer Heat

KILLER HEAT

A NOVEL

LINDA FAIRSTEIN

DOUBLEDAY NEW YORK LONDON
TORONTO SYDNEY AUCKLAND

PUBLISHED BY DOUBLEDA Y Copyright © 2008 by
Fairstein Enterprises, LLC All Rights Reserved Published in the
United States by Doubleday, an imprint of The Doubleday Broadway
Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. www.doubleday.com This book
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations,
places, events, and incidents either are the product of the
author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely
coincidental.

Book design by Gretchen Achilles Map designed by
David Cain Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Fairstein, Linda A.

Killer heat / Linda Fairstein. - 1st ed.

p. cm. 1. Cooper, Alexandra (Fictitious
character)-Fiction. 2. Public prosecutors-Fiction. 3. Serial
murderers-Fiction. 4. New York (N.Y.)- Fiction. I. Title.

PS3556.A3654K54 2008 813'.54-dc22 eISBN:
978-0-385-52538-1 2007020286 v1.0 FOR KATHLEEN HAM
Courage, a cold case-and, at last, a conviction And I fear, I fear,
my Master dear! We shall have a deadly storm. -Ballad of Sir
Patrick Spence

KILLER HEAT

ONE

Mike Chapman bit into the tip of a Cohiba and held the match to
the end of his thick cigar, drawing several deep breaths to make
certain it was lighted

Take a few hits, Coop," he said, passing it to me.

I shook my head.

“The stench from that corpse is going to stay in your brain for
weeks unless you infuse it right away with something more powerful.
Why do you think I've always got a couple of these in my
pocket?”

I took the cigar from Mike and rolled it between my fingers

Don't look at the damn thing. Smoke it. That broad's been
decomposing for days in an empty room during a summer heat wave.
Wrap your lips around that sucker and inhale till the smoke comes
through your nose and ears, and maybe even from between your
toes.

I put it to my lips, coughing as the harsh tobacco taste filled
my mouth and lungs. There were no overhead lights above the
concrete barriers we sat on at the intersection of South Street and
Whitehall, which dead-ended at the East River, near the
southernmost tip of Manhattan.

“There's no air out here. Not even a breeze off the water.
”Almost midnight and it's still ninety-seven degrees. She's cooking
in that room," Mike said, tossing his head in the direction of the
crime scene that he'd been working for the last three hours. His
black hair glistened with sweat, and the perspiration on his shirt
made the cotton cloth cling to his chest.

"Whatever body parts were left intact will be fried by the time
they bag her.

“Are you going with the guys to the morgue?” I asked

Might be the coolest place in town tonight. You into
refrigerated boxes?"

“I'll pass. Are they almost done?”

“The ME was ready to call it quits when the maggot maven showed
up.”

The putrefaction of the woman's body, which had been left to rot
in the abandoned government offices over the old ferry slip,
offered an irresistible opportunity to swarms of summer flies,
which entered to lay their eggs and leave their offspring to
nourish themselves on her flesh.

The blast of the horn from the Staten Island Ferry, its giant
orange hull sliding out of the pier from the enormous modern
terminal just twenty yards downriver, startled me. We were half a
mile south of the bustling marketplace that had once been the South
Street Seaport, flanking the glittering towers of Wall Street,
outside what seemed like the only building in the downtown area
that had been neglected alongside the water's flotsam and
jetsam.

I stood up from the concrete barrier and looked over my shoulder
at the entrance to the deserted slips-three vaulted openings that
led to the water, supporting a raised porch and the offices in
which the body had been found, centered between forty-foot-tall
columns that faced Whitehall. Crumbling wooden pilings bordered the
walkway behind me, while trash floated and bobbed among the large
rocks in the water ten feet below.

“Jumpy already?” Mike smiled at me as he held the open collar of
his shirt between his thumb and forefinger, waving it back and
forth as though the cloth might actually dry out despite the
oppressive humidity. “You don't even know what happened to her
yet.”

“Has he got any ideas about how long the woman's been dead?” The
cigar smoke filtered up through my nostrils, overwhelming the
pungent odor of death.

“Bug juice, Madam Prosecutor. The good Dr. Magorski likes to
bring this whole thing down to when he figures the flies laid the
maggots which finished feasting and then sat on the floorboards and
pupated. He's picking up the pupal cases to take to his lab. It's a
slow process,” Mike said, dismissing the expert with a flip of his
hand.

The forensic entomologist had been called to the scene by the
young medical examiner who first responded to the detectives'
notification. I had watched Magorski work several other cases,
clipping a pair of lenses that looked like tiny microscopes over
his thick eyeglasses while he scoured the body and its surroundings
for signs of insect life-with its predictable cycles that might
help establish a time of death.

“I understand. But do you think he's useful?”

“I want you to keep puffing on that thing till you turn a pale
shade of green.”

“I feel like I'm coming up on chartreuse,” I said, brushing
wisps of damp hair off my forehead with the back of my hand.

“Personally, I think he's a waste of resources. Is she dead more
than a week? Yeah. Less than two? My money's on that. The only
reason everybody south of Forty-second Street didn't notice the
odor is because this place is so isolated, except for the decaying
fish remains and sewage right below where she was found.”

“That's still a pretty big window of opportunity.”

“Once we ID the broad, it won't take long for some joker to tell
us the last time she showed up at work or a girlfriend to say what
domestic tiff sped her out the door of her apartment. Stick with
real detective work, kid. I never met a bug with a gold
shield.”

I had seen more than my share of bodies as the prosecutor in
charge of the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit in the Manhattan District
Attorney's Office for the last decade. The black humor of many cops
and colleagues, an effort to defuse these ugly situations, did
nothing to ease my revulsion.

“Hey, Chapman,” a rookie in uniform called out to Mike from the
porch of the old ferry slip. “They're bringing her out now. You and
Ms. Cooper can come back up.”

On the roadway opposite the aging terminal, the Franklin Delano
Roosevelt Drive sank below ground to loop under the Battery and
reemerge as the West Side Highway. The far side of the tunnel
entrance, dozens of glass and steel office towers-many of their
windows still lit-formed the dense, narrow canyons of the city's
financial district.

“Sorry to drag you down here. I really thought it might be your
girl,” Mike said. He knew I had been assigned to an unsolved case
involving a young woman who'd gone missing the week before.

We watched as the MEs van backed into the loading dock and the
attendant opened the rear doors, ready to receive the body bag.

“Looked like a good possibility till the wig came off and we
realized her hair wasn't red,” he went on.

Mike was a second-grade detective assigned to the Manhattan
North Homicide Squad. His usual turf stretched from north of
Fifty-ninth Street, uptown through the Harlems and the Heights to
the narrow waterway that separated the island from the Bronx. But
the end of summer, despite the spike in murders that usually
accompanied a dramatic rise in the temperature, was also the time
many cops took their vacation. The two squads, now short of
manpower in late August, combined forces to respond to every murder
in Manhattan.

We stopped talking when four men-one from the medical examiner's
office and three uniformed officers from the First Precinct-
emerged from the dark mouth of the building with their charge.
There were no other spectators, no need for them to walk as though
they were pallbearers, struggling to balance the coffin. The
foursome loped along with the body, heaving it onto the stretcher
inside the van, jerking it from side to side to position it before
they strapped it into place for the ride up the drive to the
morgue.

“None of these 'ologists' can help with the more important
questions,” Mike said as the driver slammed the double doors. He
wiped the sweat from his forehead with his handkerchief, then
passed it to me. “Who the hell is she? What brought her to this
godforsaken place? Why hasn't anybody noticed she was out of
commission before tonight? What kind of monster am I looking for? I
can't even think straight it's so hot.”

“No other missing-person reports?” I pressed the damp cloth to
the back of my neck.

“Nothing that fits. Two African-American women-one from the
Bronx and the other a chronic runaway from Queens-an Asian tourist,
an old lady with dementia who hasn't come home in a week, but
definitely a blue-rinse dye job. Your case is the only one that
seemed a possible match.”

As the assistant district attorney who supervised sex crimes, I
had partnered with Mike for more than a decade. I was at my desk in
the criminal courthouse when he called me several hours earlier,
asking for more details about the physical description of the
twenty-two-year-old woman-Elise Huff-who had gone missing more than
a week earlier. The investigation had been handed to me two days
after her disappearance by my boss, Paul Battaglia, now in his
fifth term as Manhattan's district attorney.

“Elise is a redhead. Natural.”

She had disappeared after a night of barhopping with a
girlfriend, who split from her at 3:00 a.m. when she had been
unable to convince Elise to go home. Elise's parents had pressed
their congressman, in Tennessee, to lean on Battaglia to ramp up
the search for their daughter, assuming that she might have been
the target of a sexual predator.

“That's why I called you out. This one,” Mike said, pointing at
the taillights of the van that carried the woman away, “was a
redhead when I showed up, till the medical examiner rolled her face
to the side and the damn wig fell off.”

The synthetic auburn mane had been straight, lustrous, and
obviously expensive when I looked at it earlier with the aid of
Mike's flashlight. It had covered a shock of short curly hair-dark
brown-the only distinguishable feature still visible on the head
and body.

Mike took the cigar from me as we walked under the archway and
back into the terminal, toward the staircase. His cheeks hollowed
as he sucked in several deep breaths before handing it back.
“Inhale once more, Coop.”

Climbing the steps behind Mike, I smiled at his constant
attempts to protect me from the more horrific parts of our job. Hal
Sherman was setting up the battery-run lighting system that would
allow him to take dozens more photographs of the grim room from
which the body had been removed. Within the confines of this
space-no more than thirty feet long and twenty wide-the Crime Scene
Unit investigators would look for any speck of evidence that might
lead to an identification of the victim, her killer, and whatever
connection linked them to each other.

“So what's the weapon?” Mike asked.

“Maybe the butt of a gun caused the fracture. Maybe a hammer.
The autopsy'll tell you more than I can.” Hal put a ruler on the
floor, next to what looked like a bloodstain, before he leaned over
to snap his picture.

The young ME was certain that the woman had died from a blunt
force injury, an impact that had depressed a portion of her skull
on the left temple and caused the fatal damage to her brain.

“You make anything of the marks on her face?”

“Yeah. Scope the personals for a guy who likes to dance. Too bad
there wasn't much skin left. The bastard must have stomped on her
face after he whacked her. I don't know if there's enough of a
pattern to get a shoe print, but I shot it from every angle.”

I stood still while Mike geared up again-rubber gloves and
booties-to go back over every crevice of the dusty room.

“And when uniform arrived?”

“Obliterated everything on the stairs,” Hal said, sweeping his
arm around the room, then wiping his moustache with his sleeve,
“and all over the place.”

The glass in each of the five windows that faced the river was
shattered, much like the bones of the dead woman's face.

“You guys find anything?” Mike asked the two cops who had been
assisting Hal.

“Double-checking. Nothing so far except this-I don't know-looks
like a knotted strip of leather. Like the end of a key chain or
something.” One of them held up a two-inch piece of rawhide.

“This guy was good,” the other said. “Must have had lots of
time. Maybe even got away clean.”

Each man had examined half of the room, and now they switched
positions to go over the other's territory. Mike stepped around Hal
and stood behind an old wooden desk. He opened the four drawers,
flashing his light into them and slamming them shut.

“Government offices. Seems like whoever winds up designing stuff
for the city has to take a course in how to make it look
dismal.”

“What agency was this?” I asked.

“Ports and Terminals.”

Three chairs with broken backs lined the far wall. Mike lifted
each one and replaced it. He moved toward several crates piled in a
corner.

“Don't bother, Chapman. They're as empty as your pockets.”

“What did you think about those lines on her wrists?” Mike was
crouched on the floor now, measuring the coating of dust with a
gloved finger.

“Some kind of ligature. Maybe even cuffs. Hey, Alexandra, you
want to wave that cigar around. Where did you get such a good one,
Mike?” Hal asked, sniffing the air.

“Coop's boss. All his friends stockpile him with the best
Cubans. Only the feds prosecute for trading with the enemy. Not
Battaglia. He just lets the evidence go up in smoke.”

“You think she was killed here?” I asked. “Nah. She's a dump
job.”

“No signs of any struggle, but then that's pretty tough to do
when you're bound,” Mike said, agreeing with Hal. “Maybe still
alive when he brought her up and left her to die. That's why
there's blood.”

I looked through what was left of the window. The river was
dark, a slight chop from the current kicking up an occasional
whitecap. A few small boats criss-crossed the harbor, illuminating
narrow lines over the water with their headlights.

“Not a trace of her clothing anywhere?” I asked.

“Zip. Looks like we're dealing with a pro, Coop. Felony frequent
flier miles. C'mon, I'll put you in a cab. You've got court in the
morning.”

I said good night to Hal and his crew and went downstairs,
careful to avoid the powder on the banister where crime scene cops
had dusted for prints.

BOOK: Killer Heat
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