Chapter OneMurder was always an insult, and had been since the first human hand had smashed a stone into the first human skull. But the murder, bloody and brutal, of an entire family in their own home, in their own beds, was a different form of evil.
Eve Dallas, NYPSD Homicide, pondered it as she stood studying Inga Snood, forty-two-year-old female. Domestic, divorced. Dead.
Blood spatter and the scene itself told her how it must have been. Snood's killer had walked in the door, crossed to the bed, yanked Snood's head up-probably by the mid-length blonde hair, raked the edge of the blade neatly-left to right-across her throat, severing the jugular.
Relatively tidy, certainly quick. Probably quiet. It was unlikely the victim had the time to comprehend what was happening. No defensive wounds, no other trauma, no signs of struggle. Just blood and the dead.
Eve had beaten both her partner and Crime Scene to the house. The nine-one-one had gone to Emergency, relayed to a black-and-white on neighborhood patrol. The uniforms had called in the homicides, and she'd gotten the tag just before three in the morning.
She still had the rest of the dead, the rest of the scenes, to study. She stepped back out, glanced at the uniform on post in the kitchen.
"Keep this scene secure."
"Yes, sir, Lieutenant."
She moved through the kitchen out into a bisected space-living on one side, dining on the other. Upper-middle income, single-family residence. Nice, Upper West Side neighborhood. Decent security, which hadn't done the Swishers or their domestic a damn bit of good.
Good furniture-tasteful, she supposed. Everything neat and clean and in what appeared to be its place. No burglary, not with plenty of easily transported electronics.
She went upstairs, came to the parents' room first. Keelie and Grant Swisher, ages thirty-eight and forty, respectively. As with their housekeeper, there was no sign of struggle. Just two people who'd been asleep in their own bed and were now dead.
She gave the room a quick glance, saw a pricey man's wrist unit on a dresser, a pair of woman's gold earrings on another.
No, not burglary.
She stepped back out just as her partner, Detective Delia Peabody, came up the steps. Limping-just a little.
Had she put Peabody back on active too soon? Eve wondered. Her partner had taken a serious beating only three weeks before after being ambushed steps outside her own apartment building. And Eve still had the image of the stalwart Peabody bruised, broken, unconscious in a hospital bed.
Best to put the image, and the guilt, aside. Best to remember how she herself hated being on medical, and that work was sometimes better than forced rest.
"Five dead? Home invasion?" Huffing a bit, Peabody gestured down the steps. "The uniform on the door gave me a quick run."
"It looks like, but we don't call it yet. Domestic's downstairs, rooms off the kitchen. Got it in bed, throat slit. Owners in there. Same pattern. Two kids, girl and boy, in the other rooms on this level."
"First on scene indicated this was the boy." Eve moved to the next door, called for the lights.
"Records ID twelve-year-old Coyle Swisher." There were framed sports posters on his walls. Baseball taking the lead. Some of his blood had spewed onto the torso of the Yankees current hot left fielder.
Though there was the debris of an adolescent on the floor, on the desk and dresser, she saw no sign Coyle had had any more warning than his parents.
Peabody pressed her lips together, cleared her throat. "Quick, efficient," she said in flat tones.
"No forced entry. No alarms tripped. Either the Swishers neglected to set them-and I wouldn't bet on that-or somebody had their codes or a good jammer. Girl should be down here."
"Okay." Peabody squared her shoulders. "It's harder when it's kids."
"It's supposed to be." Eve stepped to the next room, called for lights, and studied the fluffy pink and white bed, the little girl with her blonde hair matted with blood. "Nine-year-old Nixie Swisher, according to the records."
"Practically a baby."
"Yeah." Eve scanned the room, and her head cocked. "What do you see, Peabody?"
"Some poor kid who'll never get the chance to grow up."
"Two pair of shoes over there."
"Kids, especially upper income, swim in shoes."
"Two of those backpack deals kids haul their stuff in. You seal up yet?"
"No, I was just-"
"I have." Eve walked into the crime scene, reached down with a sealed hand, and picked up the shoes. "Different sizes. Go get the first on scene."
With the shoes still in her hand, Eve turned back to the bed, to the child, as Peabody hurried out. Then she set them aside, took an Identi-pad out of her field kit.
Yes, it was harder when it was a child. It was hard to take such a small hand in yours. Such a small, lifeless hand, to look down at the young who'd been robbed of so many years, and all the joys, all the pains that went in them.
She pressed the fingers to the pad, waited for the readout.
"Officer Grimes, Lieutenant," Peabody said from the doorway. "First on scene."
"Who called this in, Grimes?" Eve asked without turning around.
"Sir, unidentified female."
"And where is this unidentified female?"
"I ... Lieutenant, I assumed it was one of the vics." She glanced back now, and Grimes saw the tall, lean woman in mannish trousers, a battered leather jacket. The cool brown eyes, flat cop's eyes, in a sharply featured face. Her hair was brown, like her eyes, short, choppy rather than sleek.
She had a rep, and when that icy gaze pinned him, he knew she'd earned it.
"So our nine-one-one calls in murder, then hops into bed so she can get her throat slashed?"
"Ah ..." He was a beat cop, with two years under his belt. He wasn't ranking Homicide. "The kid here might've called it, Lieutenant, then tried to hide in bed."
"How long you had a badge, Grimes?"
"Two years-in January. Lieutenant."
"I know civilians who've got a better sense of crime scene than you. Fifth victim, identified as Linnie Dyson, age nine, who is not a fucking resident of this fucking address. Who is not one Nixie Swisher. Peabody, start a search of the residence. We're looking for another nine-year-old girl, living or dead. Grimes, you idiot, call in an Amber Alert. She may have been the reason for this. Possible abduction. Move!"
Peabody snagged a can of Seal-It out of her own kit, hurriedly sprayed her shoes and hands.
"She could be hiding. If the kid called it in, Dallas, she could be hiding. She could be afraid to come out, or she's in shock. She could be alive."
"Start downstairs." Eve dropped on her hands and knees to look under the bed. "Find out what unit, what 'link placed the nine-one-one."
Eve strode to the closet, searched through it, pushed into any area of the room where a child might hide. She started out, moving toward the boy's room, then checked herself.
You were a little girl, with what seemed to be a nice family. Where did you go when things got bad?
Somewhere, Eve thought, she herself never had to go. Because when things got bad for her, the family was the cause.
But she bypassed the other rooms and walked back into the master bedroom.
"Nixie," she said quietly, as her eyes scanned. "I'm Lieutenant Dallas, with the police. I'm here to help you. You call the police, Nixie?"
Abduction, she thought again. But why slaughter an entire household to snatch a little girl? Easier to boost her off the street somewhere, even to come in, tranq her, carry her out. More likely they'd found her trying to hide, and she'd be curled up somewhere, dead as the rest.
She called for lights, full, and saw the smears of blood on the carpet on the far side of the bed. A small, bloody handprint, another, and a trail of red leading to the master bath.
Didn't have to be the kid's blood. More likely the parents. More likely, but there was a hell of a lot of it. Crawled through the blood, Eve thought.
The tub was big and sexy, double sinks in a long peachy-colored counter, and a little closet-type deal for the toilet.
A smudged and bloody swath stained the pretty pastel floor tiles. "Goddamn it," Eve mumbled, and followed the trail toward the thick, green glass walls of a shower station.
She expected to find the bloodied body of a small dead girl.
Instead she found the trembling form of a live one.
There was blood on her hands, on her nightshirt, on her face.
For a moment, one hideous moment, Eve stared at the child and saw herself. Blood on her hands, her shirt, her face, huddled in a freezing room. For that moment, she saw the knife, still dripping, in her hand, and the body-the man-she'd hacked to pieces lying on the floor.
"Jesus. Oh Jesus." She took a stumbling step back, primed to run, to scream. And the child lifted her head, locked glassy eyes on hers, and whimpered.
She came back, hard, as if someone had slapped her. Not me, she told herself as she fought to get her breathing under control. Nothing like me.
Nixie Swisher. She has a name. Nixie Swisher.
"Nixie Swisher." Eve said it out loud, and felt herself settle. The kid was alive, and there was a job to do.
One quick survey told Eve none of the blood was the child's.
Even with the punch of relief, the stiffening of spine, she wished for Peabody. Kids weren't her strong suit.
"Hey." She crouched, carefully tapped the badge she'd hooked to her waistband with a finger that was nearly steady now. "I'm Dallas. I'm a cop. You called us, Nixie."
The child's eyes were wide and glazed. Her teeth chattered.
"I need you to come with me, so I can help you." She reached out a hand, but the girl cringed back and made a sound like a trapped animal.
Know how you feel, kid. Just how.
"You don't have to be afraid. Nobody's going to hurt you." Keeping one hand up, she reached in her pocket with the other for her communicator. "Peabody, I've got her. Master bath. Get up here."
Wracking her brain, Eve tried to think of the right approach. "You called us, Nixie. That was smart, that was brave. I know you're scared, but we're going to take care of you."
"They killed, they killed, they killed ..."
Her head shook, like an old woman with palsy. "They killed, they killed my mom. I saw, I saw. They killed my mom, my dad. They killed-"
"I know. I'm sorry."
"I crawled through the blood." Eyes huge and glassy, she held out her smeared hands. "Blood."
"Are you hurt, Nixie? Did they see you? Did they hurt you?"
"They killed, they killed-" When Peabody turned into the room, Nixie screamed as if she'd been stabbed. And launched herself into Eve's arms.
Peabody stopped short, kept her voice very calm, very quiet. "I'll call Child Protection. Is she injured?"
"Not that I can see. Shocky, though."
It felt awkward holding a child, but Eve wrapped her arms around Nixie and got to her feet. "She saw it. We've got not only a survivor, but an eye witness."
"We've got a nine-year-old kid who saw-" Peabody spoke in undertones as Nixie wept on Eve's shoulder, and jerked her head toward the bedroom.
"I know. Here, take her and-" But when Eve tried to peel Nixie away, the child only wrapped herself tighter.
"I think you're going to have to."
"Hell. Call CPS, get somebody over here. Start a record, room by room. I'll be back in a minute."
She'd hoped to pass the kid to one of the uniforms, but Nixie seemed glued to her now. Resigned, and wary, she carted Nixie down to the first floor, looked for a neutral spot, and settled on what looked like a playroom.
"I want my mom. I want my mom."
"Yeah, I got that. But here's the thing: You've got to let go. I'm not going to leave you, but you gotta loosen the grip."
"Are they gone?" Nixie pushed her face into Eve's shoulder. "Are the shadows gone?"
"Yes. You have to let go, sit down here. I have to do a couple of things. I need to talk to you."
"What if they come back?"
"I won't let them. I know this is hard. The hardest." At wit's end, she sat on the floor with Nixie still clinging to her. "I need to do a job, that's how I can help. I need to ..." Jesus. "I need to get a sample from your hand, and then you can clean up. You'd feel better if you got cleaned up, right?"
"I got their blood ..."
"I know. Here, this is my field kit. I'm just going to take a swab for evidence. And I need to take a recording.
Then you can go to the washroom over there and clean up. Record on," Eve said, quietly, then eased Nixie back.
"You're Nixie Swisher, right? You live here?"
"Yeah, I want-"
"And I'm Lieutenant Dallas. I'm going to swab your hand here, so you can clean up. It won't hurt."
"They killed my mom and my dad."
"I know. I'm sorry. Did you see who they were? How many there were?"
"I have their blood on me."
Sealing the swab, Eve looked at the child. She remembered what it was to be a little girl, covered in blood not her own. "How about you wash up?"
"I'll help you. Maybe you want a drink or something. I can-" And when Nixie burst into tears, Eve's eyes began to ache.
"Okay, I'll see if-"
"No, I went down to get one. I'm not supposed to, but I went down to get one, and Linnie didn't want to wake up and come. I went down to the kitchen, and I saw."
With blood smeared on both of them now, Eve decided washing up would have to wait. "What did you see, Nixie?"
"The shadow, the man, who went into Inga's room. I thought ... I was going to watch, just for a minute, if they were going to do it, you know."
"Sex. I wasn't supposed to, but I did, and I saw!"
There were tears and snot as well as blood on the kid's face now. With nothing else handy, Eve pulled a wipe rag out of her field kit and passed it over.
"What did you see?"
"He had a big knife and he cut her, he cut her bad." She closed her own hand over her throat. "And there was blood."
"Can you tell me what happened then?"
As the tears gushed, she rubbed the wipe and her hands over her cheeks, smearing them with blood. "He left. He didn't see me, and he left and I got Inga's 'link and I called Emergency."
"That's stand-up thinking, Nixie. That was really smart."
"But I wanted Mom." Her voice cracked with tears and mucus flowing. "I wanted Dad, and I went up the back way, Inga's way, and I saw them. Two of them. They were going into my room, and Coyle's room, and I knew what they would do, but I wanted my mom, and I crawled in, and I got their blood on me, and I saw them. They were dead. They're all dead, aren't they? Everybody. I couldn't go look. I went to hide."
"You did right. You did exactly right. Look at me. Nixie." She waited until those drenched eyes met hers.
"You're alive, and you did everything right. Because you did, it's going to help me find the people who did this, and make them pay."
"My mommy's dead."