Chapter OneI DEATH WAS NOT TAKING A HOLIDAY. NEW YORK may have been decked out in its glitter and glamour, madly festooned in December of 2059, but Santa Claus was dead. And a couple of his elves weren't looking so good.
Lieutenant Eve Dallas stood on the sidewalk with the insanity of Times Square screaming around her and studied what was left of St. Nick. A couple of kids, still young enough to believe that a fat guy in a red suit would wiggle down the chimney to bring them presents instead of murdering them in their sleep, were shrieking at a decibel designed to puncture eardrums. She wondered why whoever was in charge of them didn't haul them away.
Not her job, she thought. Thank God. She preferred the bloody mess at her feet.
She looked up, way up. Dropped down from the thirty-sixth floor of the Broadway View Hotel. So the first officer on-scene had reported. Shouting, "Ho, ho, ho"-according to witnesses-until he'd gone splat, and had taken out some hapless son of a bitch who'd been strolling through the endless party.
The task of separating the two smashed bodies would be an unpleasant one, she imagined.
Two other victims had escaped with minor injuries-one had simply dropped like a tree and cracked her head on the sidewalk in shock when the nasty spatter of blood, gore, and brain matter had splashed all over her. Dallas would leave them to the medical techs for the moment, and get statements when, hopefully, they were more coherent.
She already knew what had happened here. She could see it in the glassy eyes of Santa's little helpers.
She started toward them in a boot-length black leather coat that swirled in the chilly air. Her hair was short and brown around a lean face. Her eyes were the color of good, aged whiskey and were long like the rest of her. And like the rest of her, they were all cop.
"Guy in the Santa gig's your buddy?"
"Oh, man. Tubbs. Oh, man."
One was black, one was white, but they were both faintly green at the moment. She couldn't much blame them. She gauged them as late twenties, and their upscale partywear indicated they were probably junior execs at the firm that had had its holiday bash rudely interrupted.
"I'm going to arrange to have you both escorted downtown where you'll give your statements. I'd like you to voluntarily agree to illegals testing. If you don't ..." She waited a beat, smiled thinly. "We'll do it the hard way."
"Oh, man, oh, shit. Tubbs. He's dead. He's dead, right?"
"That's official," Eve said and turned to signal to her partner.
Detective Peabody, her dark hair currently worn in sporty waves, straightened from her crouch by the tangle of body parts. She was mildly green herself, Eve noted, but holding steady.
"Got ID on both victims," she announced. "Santa's Lawrence, Max, age twenty-eight, Midtown address. Guy who-ha-ha-broke his fall's Jacobs, Leo, age thirty-three. Queens."
"I'm going to arrange to have these two taken into holding, get a test for illegals, get their statements when we finish here. I assume you want to go up, look at the scene, speak with the other witnesses."
"You're primary on this one."
"Right." Peabody took a deep breath. "Did you talk to them at all?"
"Leaving that for you. You want to take a poke at them here?"
"Well ..." Peabody searched Eve's face, obviously looking for the right answer. Eve didn't give it to her. "They're pretty shaken up, and it's chaos out here, but ... We might get more out of them here and now, before they settle down and start thinking about how much trouble they might be in."
"Which one do you want?"
"Um. I'll take the black guy."
Eve nodded, walked back. "You." She pointed. "Name?"
"Steiner. Ron Steiner."
"We're going to take a little walk, Mr. Steiner."
"I feel sick."
"I bet." She gestured for him to rise, took his arm, and walked a few paces away. "You and Tubbs worked together?"
"Yeah. Yeah. Tyro Communications. We-we hung out."
"Big guy, huh?"
"Who, Tubbs? Yeah, yeah." Steiner wiped sweat from his brow. "Came in about two-fifty, I guess. So we figured it'd be a gag to have him rent the Santa suit for the party."
"What kind of toys and goodies did Tubbs have in his sack today, Ron?"
"Oh, man." He covered his face with his hands. "Oh, Jesus."
"We're not on record yet, Ron. We will be, but right now just tell me what went down. Your friend's dead, and so is some poor schmuck who was just walking on the sidewalk."
He spoke through his hands. "Bosses set up this lunch buffet deal for the office party. Wouldn't even spring for some brew, you know?" Ron shivered twice, hard, then dropped his arms to his sides. "So a bunch of us got together, and we pooled to rent the suite for the whole day. After the brass left, we brought out the booze and the ... the recreational chemicals. So to speak."
He swallowed, then finally met her eyes. "You know, a little Exotica, some Push and Jazz."
"I don't mess with that. I'll take the test, you'll see. All I did was a few tokes of Jazz." When Eve said nothing, merely stared into his eyes, he welled up. "He never used heavy stuff. Not Tubbs, man, I swear. I'd've known. But I think he had some today, maybe laced some of the Push with it, or somebody did. Asshole," he said as tears spilled down his cheeks. "He was juiced up, I can tell you that. But man, it was a party. We were just having fun. People were laughing and dancing. Then Tubbs, he opens the window."
His hands were everywhere now. His face, his throat, his hair. "Oh, God, oh, God. I figured it was because it was getting smokey. Next thing you know, he's climbing up, he's got this big, stupid grin on his face. He shouts, 'Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.' Then he fucking dived out. Head first. Jesus Christ, he was just gone. Nobody even thought to grab for him. It happened so fast, so damn fast. People started screaming and running, and I ran to the window and looked."
He mopped at his face with his hands, shuddered again. "And I yelled for somebody to call nine-one-one, and Ben and I ran down. I don't know why. We were his friends, and we ran down."
"Where'd he get the stuff, Ron?"
"Man, this is fucked up." He looked away, over her head, out to the street. Fighting, Eve knew, the standard little war between ratting out and standing up.
"He must've gotten it from Zero. A bunch of us chipped in so we could get a party pack. Nothing heavy, I swear."
"Where does Zero operate?"
"He runs a data club, Broadway and Twenty-ninth. Zero's. Sells recreationals under the counter. Tubbs, man, he was harmless. He was just a big stupid guy."
The big stupid guy and the poor schmuck he landed on were being scraped off the sidewalk when Eve walked into party central. It looked as she'd expected it would look: an unholy mess of abandoned clothes, spilled booze, dropped food. The window remained open, which was fortunate as the stench of smoke, puke, and sex still permeated.
Witnesses who hadn't run like rabbits had given statements in adjoining rooms, then had been released.
"What's your take?" Eve asked Peabody as she crossed the minefield of plates and glasses scattered on the carpet.
"Other than Tubbs won't make it home for Christmas? Poor idiot got himself hyped, probably figured Rudolph was hovering outside with the rest of the reindeer and the sled. He jumped, in clear view of more than a dozen witnesses. Death by Extreme Stupidity."
When Eve said nothing, only continued to look out the open window, Peabody stopped bagging pills she found on the floor. "You've got another take?"
"Nobody pushed him, but he had help getting extremely stupid." Absently, she rubbed her hip that still ached a bit now and then from a healing wound. "There's going to be something in his tox screen other than happy pills or something to give him his three-hour woody."
"Nothing in the statements to indicate that anyone had anything against the guy. He was just a schmoe. And he's the one who brought the illegals in."
"You want to go after the pusher?"
"Illegals killed him. The guy who sold them held the weapon." She caught herself rubbing her hip, stopped, and turned around. "What did you get from the witnesses regarding this guy's illegals habit?"
"He didn't really have one. Just played around a little now and then at parties." Peabody paused a moment. "And one of the ways pushers increase their business is to spice the deal here and there. Okay. I'll see if Illegals has anything on this Zero, then we'll go have a talk with him."
She let Peabody run the show and spent her time getting the data on the next of kin. Tubbs had no spouse or cohab, but he had a mother in Brooklyn. Jacobs had a wife and a kid. As it was unlikely any investigation would be necessary into either victim's life, she contacted a departmental grief counselor. Informing next of kin was always tough, but the holidays added layers.
Back on the sidewalk, she stood looking at the police barricades, the throngs behind them, the ugly smears left behind on the pavement. It had been stupid, and plain bad luck, and had too many elements of farce to be overlooked.
But two men who'd been alive that morning were now in bags on their way to the morgue.
"Hey, lady! Hey, lady! Hey, lady!"
On the third call, Eve glanced around and spotted the kid who'd scooted under the police line. He carried a battered suitcase nearly as big as he was.
"You talking to me? Do I look like a lady?"
"Got good stuff." As she watched, more impressed than surprised, he flipped the latch on the case. A three-legged stand popped out of the bottom, and the case folded out and became a table loaded with mufflers and scarves. "Good stuff. Hundred percent cashmere."
The kid had skin the color of good black coffee, and eyes of impossible green. There was an airboard hanging on a strap at his back, and the board was painted in hot reds, yellows, and oranges to simulate flames.
Even as he grinned at her, his nimble fingers were pulling up various scarves. "Nice color for you, lady."
"Jesus, kid, I'm a cop."
"Cops know good stuff."
She waved off a uniform hot-footing it in their direction. "I've got a couple of dead guys to deal with here."
"They gone now."
"Did you see the leaper?"
"Nah." He shook his head in obvious disgust. "Missed it, but I heard. Get a good crowd when somebody goes and jumps out the window, so I pulled up and came over. Doing good business. How 'bout this red one here. Look fine with that bad-ass coat."
She had to appreciate his balls, but kept her face stern. "I wear a badass coat because I am a bad-ass, and if these are cashmere, I'll eat the whole trunk of them."
"Label says cashmere; that's what counts." He smiled again, winningly. "You'd look fine in this red one. Make you a good deal."
She shook her head, but there was a checked one, black and green, that caught her eye. She knew someone who'd wear it. Probably. "How much?" She picked up the checked scarf, found it softer than she'd have guessed.
"Seventy-five. Cheap as dirt."
She dropped it again, and gave him a look he'd understand. "I've got plenty of dirt."
"Fifty, flat." She pulled out credits, made the exchange. "Now get behind the line before I run you in for being short."
"Take the red one, too. Come on, lady. Half price. Good deal."
"No. And if I find out you've got your fingers in any pockets, I'll find you. Beat it."
He only smiled again, flipped the latch, and folded up. "No sweat, no big. Merry Christmas and all that shit."
"Back at you." She turned, spotted Peabody heading her way, and with some haste stuffed the scarf in her pocket.
"You bought something. You shopped!"
"I didn't shop. I purchased what is likely stolen merchandise, or gray-market goods. It's potential evidence."
"My ass." Peabody got her fingers on the tip of the scarf, rubbed. "It's nice. How much? Maybe I wanted one. I haven't finished Christmas shopping yet. Where'd he go?"
"Damn it. Okay, okay. Illegals has a sheet on Gant, Martin, aka Zero. I wrangled around with a Detective Piers, but our two dead guys outweigh his ongoing investigation. We'll go bring him in for Interview."
As they started toward their vehicle, Peabody looked over her shoulder. "Did he have any red ones?"
The club was open for business, as clubs in this sector tended to be, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Zero's was a slick step up from a joint, with a circular revolving bar, privacy cubes, a lot of silver and black that would appeal to the young professional crowd. At the moment the music was tame and recorded, with wall screens filled with a homely male face, fortunately half-hidden by a lot of lank purple hair. He sang morosely of the futility of life.
Eve could have told him that for Tubbs Lawrence and Leo Jacobs the alternative probably seemed a lot more futile.
The bouncer was big as a maxibus, and his tunic jacket proved that black wasn't necessarily slimming. He made them as cops the minute they stepped in. Eve saw the flicker in his eyes, the important rolling back of his shoulders.
The floor didn't actually vibrate when he crossed the room, but she wouldn't have called him light on his feet.
He gave them both a hard look out of nut-brown eyes, and showed his teeth.
"You got a problem?"
Peabody was a little late with the answer, habitually waiting for Eve to take the lead. "Depends. We'd like to talk to your boss."
"Gosh, then I guess we'll have to wait." Peabody took a long look around. "While we're waiting we might as well take a look at your licenses." Now she showed her teeth as well. "I like busywork. Maybe we'll chat up some of your clientele. Community relations, and all that."
As she spoke, she pulled out her badge. "Meanwhile you can tell him Detective Peabody, and my partner, Lieutenant Dallas, are waiting."
Peabody strolled over to a table where a man in a business suit and a woman-who looked unlikely to be his wife due to the amount of breast spilling out of her pink spangled top-were huddled. "Good afternoon, sir!" She greeted him with an enthusiastic smile, and all the blood drained out of his face. "And what brings you into this fine establishment this afternoon?"
He got quickly to his feet, mumbled about having an appointment. As he rabbited, the woman rose. As she was about six inches taller than Peabody, she pushed those impressive breasts in Peabody's face. "I'm doing business here! I'm doing business here!"
Still smiling, Peabody took out a memo book. "Name, please?"
"What the fuck!"
"Ms. What-the-Fuck, I'd like to see your license."
"No, really. Just a spotcheck."
"Bull." She spun herself and those breasts toward the bouncer. "This cop ran off my john."
"I'm sorry, I'd like to see your companion license. If everything's in order, I'll let you get back to work."
Bull-and it seemed the day for people to have names appropriate to their bodies-flanked Peabody, who now looked, Eve thought, like a slight yet sturdy filling between two bulky pieces of bread.
Eve rolled to her toes, just in case.
"You got no right coming in here rousting customers."
"I'm just using my time wisely while we wait to speak with Mr. Gant. Lieutenant, I don't believe Mr. Bull appreciates police officers."
"I got better use for women."
Eve rolled onto her toes again, and her tone was cool as the December breeze. "Want to try to use me? Bull."
She saw the movement out of the corner of her eye, the flash of color on the narrow, spiral stairs that led to the second level. "Looks like your boss has time after all."
Another appearance-appropriate name, she decided. The man was barely five feet in height and couldn't have weighed a hundred pounds. He used the short guy's compensation swagger and wore a bright blue suit with a florid pink shirt. His hair was short, straight, reminding her of pictures of Julius Caesar.
It was ink black, like his eyes.
A silver eyetooth winked as he offered a smile.
"Something I can do for you, Officers?"
He spread his hands, nodded at Peabody. "Just call me Zero."
"I'm afraid we've had a complaint. We're going to need you to come downtown and answer some questions."
"What sort of complaint?"
"It involves the sale of illegal substances." Peabody glanced to one of the privacy cubes. "Such as the ones currently being ingested by some of your clientele."