Read Raging Heat Online

Authors: Richard Castle

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Young Adult - Fiction

Raging Heat

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Castle
© ABC Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Cover artwork © ABC

All rights reserved. Published by Kingswell, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher.

For information address Kingswell,

1101 Flower Street, Glendale, California 91201.

For publicity address Kingswell,

125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.

Editorial Director: Wendy Lefkon

Executive Editor: Laura Hopper

Cover designed by Alfred Sole

ISBN 978-1-4847-2034-9

Contents

 

To KB—

The stars above us, the world at our feet.

N
ikki Heat wondered if her mother hadn’t been murdered what her life would have been. Would she be hoofing it like this from her police precinct to a crime scene, or would she instead be on Broadway rehearsing a Chekov revival or some cutting-edge relationship exploration with whispers of a Tony? At Columbus Avenue she paused for the walk signal. Life might have intervened in other ways, too. Fate could have just as easily made her that gourmet mom sitting in the Starbucks window to her right, helping her preschooler negotiate a hot chocolate. Or made her a panhandler, like that guy shaking his Dixie cup of coins outside the wine store across the street. She didn’t see a Steely Dan backup singer anywhere around her, but she would enthusiastically be open to that possibility, also.

A swirl of urban wind lifted some gutter trash in a mini twister and Nikki watched a plastic grocery bag, candy wrappers, and a newspaper ad spin south from Eighty-second until the spectacle lost its center and came apart into something more mundane: random garbage. It was only half past 10
A.M.
Why would somebody beg outside a wine shop that was closed?

She turned back to regard the panhandler, but he turned away from her and shuffled uptown. Heat got the light and crossed. One corner down, the traffic detail chopped the air with gloved hands to keep the gawkers moving past the street barricade. But they would let her through. The NYPD’s top homicide detective had a corpse to meet.

The radio call from the first uniforms on-scene had carried a spoiler. “Don’t eat or drink anything en route. Seriously.” One part defiance, one part caffeine jones, Heat brought along the remnants of the vanilla latte cooling on her desk and polished it off before she reached the cordon. She lobbed the cup into a city can and flashed tin at the patrolman guarding the caution tape.

Inside the barrier, Nikki paused. To anyone else, it looked as if she were stopping to adjust her holster, which she did. But that was cover. The interval was her own moment, a ritual of one deep breath to honor the loss of a life and to connect her own experience with tragedy. Even though Heat had closed her mother’s case two years ago, she still meditated on her simple pledge every time she encountered a new body: victims deserved justice; loved ones deserved smart cops. Duly acknowledged, she exhaled and moved forward.

Scanning Eighty-first Street with beginner’s eyes, she vacuumed details and opened herself to critical first impressions. Seasoned investigators were most vulnerable to missing clues because it all got workaday, if they let it. So Heat downshifted to rookie mode, playing her walk-up as if this were her first case ever.

Nikki’s first ping registered a half block from the planetarium. The paramedics out front were busy. Usually medical first responders were idle by the time she arrived because the victim was dead at the scene. Occasionally, a shooting or a knife rampage left a collateral victim or two requiring treatment or transport. But this morning, the reflection of bright emergency lights bouncing off the wet pavement was broken by middle school field trippers huddled around three ambulances. Even from a distance Nikki noted the signs of emotional trauma—sobs, giddiness, faraway stares. A teenage boy sat on a gurney inside one ambulance, vomiting. Outside it, a pair of girls stood holding each, wiping tears.

She passed a coach bus with Edmonton plates idling at the curb. About two dozen Canadian seniors clustered near its door, muttering gravely in the drizzle and craning for a view of the action through the trees of Theodore Roosevelt Park. By instinct, Heat looked the opposite way, behind them. Her inspection tracked east from the Excelsior Hotel along the block of grand apartment buildings to The Beresford, whose rooftop towers blurred eerily into the low clouds and resembled a ghost castle lurking in the mist twenty-three floors overhead. Many of the street’s windows were filled with rubberneckers, some of who held up smartphones to live-Tweet the carnage from their three-million-dollar condos. She got out her own cell and snapped off some shots so, later, she could pinpoint where to send her squad to interview eyewits.

High above the gray blanket, the lazy rumble of a jet on approach to one of the airports made her think of him. Six more days, he’d be back. God, these months felt like forever. Nikki shook off the distraction and once again told her longing to take a seat.

At the cobblestone driveway to the museum’s main entrance she saw it for herself and stopped cold. Riveted, Nikki stood among the evacuees and stared like everyone else. Then muttered a curse.

The mammoth six-story glass box that encases the Hayden Planetarium looked as if a meteor had smashed through the roof. But what had punched a hole in the top of the massive cube had left an explosion of blood at the jagged circle in the ceiling. On the inside wall, tongues of red extended earthward, translucent paths streaking thirty feet or more down the glass curtain. Detective Heat didn’t need to role-play beginner’s eyes. This went down as a first.

“Watch where you walk, Detective,” said the medical examiner. But
Heat
had already paused on the bottom step leading down to the lower level of the giant atrium. Dr. Lauren Parry knelt on the floor in her moon suit marking evidence under Alpha Centauri. “Got pieces of this body everywhere. Some still falling. Or dripping’s more like it.”

Nikki tilted her head back. A hundred feet above her, drizzle and unfiltered gray light seeped through the puncture a human cannonball had made. The hole created a ragged bull’s-eye in the glazed strip that framed the outer edges of the roof. Beneath the impact splatter, more blood—mixed with chunks of tissue—had not only trickled down the window, but also on one half of the giant orb nested inside the Hall of the Universe. Jupiter took a hit, too. The nearest model planet of the array suspended by wires in the cube now wore vertical streaks of red crossing its latitudinal stripes.

Elsewhere, bits of shredded clothing hung from structural tension rods where they had snagged on descent. As she looked, a gob of viscera dripped off one of the tatters and plummeted three stories, meeting the white marble floor with a splat as loud as a handclap. When it landed Detective Feller called out a long “Whooooaa!” which was followed by a chorus of rowdy guffaws from the three uniforms standing with him over near the gift shop. This time Heat wouldn’t reprimand him for his habitual lack of decorum. If ever a crime scene allowed for gallows humor to dissipate trauma, this was it. And with no family, media, or civilian bystanders around to offend, she let it slide.

Heat stepped carefully into the great hall, avoiding nuggets of glass and following the route suggested by the numbered yellow markers left behind by the ME on her way across the floor. When she reached her friend, Nikki asked. “Doesn’t figure as a jumper, does it?”

“First of all, you know better than to ask me that so soon. And second, thank you for not contaminating my crime scene.”

“I think I know where to walk, Lauren.”

“Then I have trained you well. Unlike your Detective Ochoa, who managed to slip on a piece of tendon his first minute on-scene and land on his ass. When you see Miguel, you can inform him that he is my soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend.”

Nikki scanned the neighboring buildings, all visible outside of the glass. “I don’t see anyplace close enough to make this drop.”

“You’re going to press this until I answer, aren’t you.” Dr. Parry stood and stretched her back. “Last week I worked a jumper up in the Bronx at the Castle Hill Houses. The rooftops of those projects are about the same height as these, OK? My victim had split open at the neck and abdomen and had gross organ protrusion, but she was, otherwise, an intact corpse.

“So there are not only no buildings close enough to reach this place, there’s no structure around here high enough for a fall to do this to a body. Injuries this massive are more consistent with falls from hundred-story-plus skyscrapers.”

“What about ID?”

“Our best bet will be DNA. If we get lucky, we may find extremities or teeth. Any more questions before I get back to work?”

“Just one. Are you going to chill out before tonight? Because I don’t want to sit through
Perks of Being a Wallflower
with you harrumphing all through it.”


Perks of Being a Wallflower
? I wanted to see Jeremy Renner as Bourne.”

“A: There is only one Jason Bourne, and, B: It’s my turn to pick, so deal, lady.” Nikki gave her the kind of serious look that neither could take seriously. During Rook’s two-month absence on assignment for his magazine, Nikki and Lauren had set a movie night once a week, a pleasant distraction for Heat but a weak substitute for having him near. Dr. Parry signaled her acceptance of
Perks
by telling Detective Heat to get out her notebook.

“Victim is, as yet, unidentifiable with no recovered parts sizable enough to distinguish. We have tagged one shoe, a New Balance men’s trainer that landed up on the First-Level elevator bridge, so we are open to the victim being male but cannot confirm without a DNA match.”

“But a safe guess.”

The medical examiner shrugged. “Otherwise, it’s the floor on hands and knees, or cherry pickers to search the rigging. That’s all I got.”

“Then you’ll be interested in this,” said Detective Ochoa, painstakingly tracing Heat’s path through the scattered remains and glass shards. Behind him, his partner Detective Raley followed, matching footfalls. “Found it over near Group Tickets.” The duo, affectionately known as Roach, a mash-up of their last names, both turned to indicate the counter across the hall. “It’s a piece of a finger.”

“Or maybe a toe,” added Raley.

The three detectives stood behind Parry while she crouched, examining the specimen with a magnifier. “Tip of a finger. Dark skinned.”

Heat knelt and put a cheek near the floor for a closer look. “Let’s assume black male, putting this with the men’s shoe. Any chance for a print?”

The medical examiner cautiously rolled the specimen a half-turn with the blunt end of her tweezers. It reminded Nikki of checking the edge of a pancake for doneness. “Promising. We’ll sure try.”

“Nice one, Roach,” said Heat as she stood.

Lauren tweaked her boyfriend. “Might even make up for your booty fall, Detective Clumsy.”

While Ochoa made a face at her, his partner said, “Amazing. I mean that we got a whole piece like that.”

“Not so unusual.” Dr. Parry placed an evidence cone then bagged the fingertip. “When the human body experiences catastrophic blunt force trauma like this it separates at the joints first as it explodes.”

“Giving the planetarium a brand-new exhibit for the Big Bang Theory,” said the familiar voice behind them. By reflex, Heat rolled her eyes and thought, Rook. Always clowning aro—?! Heat spun, and there he stood, ten feet away, grinning that Rook wiseass grin. Nikki tried to collect herself, but all she could do was manage a breathless, “Rook?”

“Listen, if this is a bad time…” He gestured widely to the carnage. “Last thing you need is somebody else just dropping in on you.”

She rushed to him, wanting so much to forget who she was and where she was and just throw herself at him and kiss him. Instead, the homicide squad leader clung to her professionalism and said, “You weren’t supposed to be back until—”

“—Next week, I know. Surprise.”

“Uh, understatement.” She took both his hands in hers and squeezed, then, frustrated, snapped off her nitrile gloves and held him again, this time feeling the warmth of his flesh. Soon a familiar rush filled her; the same intense magnetism that drew Heat to Rook three years before when he first came into her life. Nikki often reflected on how their relationship almost didn’t happen. A damn journalist assigned to her for a research ride-along? No, thank you, she’d thought.

But soon enough Heat went from trying to get him reassigned because his pigtail-pulling wisecracks annoyed her, to yearning for his companionship so much she let him stay around. In time they not only became a couple, trading nights at each other’s apartments, but Jameson Rook evolved into a valued collaborator on her toughest cases, notably solving the homicide of a celebrity gossip columnist, exposing a killer at the highest levels of the NYPD, helping her nail her mother’s murderers, and even in saving the city from a bioterror plot. Oh, sure there had been some romantic ups and downs, including a few trial separations, but they didn’t last. The pull—the magnetism—the rightness of their togetherness always prevailed. And, of course, there was the sex. Yes, the sex.

Nikki studied him. In two months he had grown thinner, tanner, more fit. And something else was different. “So. A beard?”

“Like it?” He struck a pose.

She stepped back and smiled broadly. “No. Hell, no.”

“You’ll get used to it.”

“No I won’t. You look like…you look like the Jameson Rook action figure.”

He withdrew one hand and felt his chin to assess.

“Who told you I was here?” she asked.

“Sorry, an undisclosed source protected by my rights under the First Amendment. OK, it was Raley.” The detective gave her a sheepish wave. When she turned back to Rook he leaned in close enough for her to inhale his scent and whispered, “I thought I’d kidnap you for an early lunch. Say, someplace with room service?”

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