Content Warnings: Adult themes, sexual references, murdered sex workers, bad and crude language.
“Miller! Chilowski!” Captain Vera Espinoza called out as she walked out of her office. Detective Eliza Miller looked up from the report she had been reading. “We got a murder on Morton Street. A couple of units are already at the scene. Victim is a white female late twenties, early thirties. The crime scene team just got there.”
Eliza nodded in acknowledgement as her superior dropped a slip of paper onto her desk. “Okay, Captain. Billy and I will get over there as soon as possible.” Captain Espinoza gave her a curt nod before going back to her office. Eliza blew out a long breath. Another murder on top of the two cases she already had. She didn’t know what was going on in the city, but she needed it to stop. At least until winter was over.
“Morton’s over in Greenwich, isn’t it?” Eliza’s partner, Billy, asked.
Eliza typed up a few notes and said, “Yep.” Billy groaned and she chuckled. “Oh, calm down. I don’t think it’s near the heart of Village so you’re safe from neighborhood’s more eclectic residents.”
Billy pretended to wipe sweat from his brow. “Thank goodness. I’d hate to have to punch some hippie because they don’t know the definition of personal space.”
Eliza chuckled quietly as she saved her work. “Billy, first of all, I don’t think they’re called hippies anymore. They’re hipsters. Secondly, you’ve dated several hipsters, and even tried to become vegan for one.” She grinned when he scowled. “So, you should fit right in.”
Billy stood up and yanked his coat off the back of his chair and slipped it on. “If you weren’t the only decent detective in this precinct I’d asked for a new partner. You’re mean, verbally abusive, and just a terrible people person.” Eliza laughed as she got up and put on her coat. Murders in the dead of winter were the worse. Even more so when the crime took place outside. The bitter cold and blistering wind made it difficult to concentrate. Eliza hoped this one wasn’t outside. “Any reason why the captain wants you on this one?” Billy asked, interrupting Eliza’s mental grumblings.
Making their way out of the bull pen, she replied, “I may have told her I was interested in moving up to Sargent. I think she’s trying to see if I can handle cases along with the administrative work. Whatever it is, it’s a pain.”
Billy grunted in disbelief. “I don’t understand why you want to put yourself through that sort of hell.” Eliza shot him a deadpanned glance, and Billy shook his head. “Right, cop’s kid. Following in the old man’s footsteps.”
They walked out of the precinct, and Eliza immediately shoved her hands into the pockets of her coat and hunched her shoulders to ward of the cold. “Hey, just because you’re in it for the money doesn’t mean you have to piss on my family heritage.”
They approached one of the unmarked police cars, and after they were in it Billy said, “Ha! If I was actually in it for the money, then I’d take that damn civil exam and become your boss.” He grinned at Eliza as he started the car. “Lucky for you, I suck at those exams and I like your stubborn ass too much.”
“I don’t think that means I’m lucky,” Eliza muttered loud enough for him to hear.
“Just for that, I’m going to let you freeze,” Billy countered as he entered the address into the navigation system.
Eliza swatted his shoulder then put the car’s heater on full blast, hoping the higher setting would warm the car up sooner. The cold made her cranky, and being cranky while doing her job was not a good thing. She tended to snap at people.
Fifteen minutes later, Billy was parallel parking into a spot that was a few buildings down from the one the murder had taken place. Eliza surveyed the outside of apartment building with a careful eye. Several squad cars blocked off the front of the building, and their flashing lights gave Eliza an instant headache. The onlookers that had dared to come out into the cold to be nosy had been wrangled up and moved to the other side of the street where a few officers kept watch of them. Two officers stood in front of the building to keep people from going inside. She spotted a NYPD crime scene van down the street. “Crime scene guys are here.”
“Wanna wait?” Billy asked.
Eliza exhaled a deep breath through her nose and contemplated the question. The call had come in thirty minutes ago, and the crime scene guys had probably been inside for the last fifteen or twenty minutes, so all the preliminary evidence should have been collected by now. Eliza pursed her lips, and after a couple seconds of going back and forth, she nodded. “Yeah, at this point they’re probably just going through the place.” She and Billy got out the car, and after she closed her door, Eliza said, “I hope it’s Jenna and not Devon. He gets mean when we ask to do a walkthrough before he’s finished.”
Billy laughed as he joined her on the sidewalk. “No he doesn’t. He gets mad when you start asking questions he doesn’t have answer for, Eliza. You get to be a pain in the ass, and at that point, you deserve his attitude.”
Eliza pinned him down with an irritated stare. “I’m requesting a new partner.” She reluctantly pulled a hand out of her coat pocket, and reached into the front left pocket of her jeans to get out her lip balm. The frown her lips had formed reminded her how bad the cold weather was on them. After putting some on, she shoved her hands and the tube of lip balm back into the fleece lined pockets of her coat. Once upon a time, Eliza had gloves, but she lost them doing something mundane, probably walking down the street, and she had yet to go to the store and replace them.
She and Billy walked up to the five-story building and flashed their badges at the two officers blocking the entrance. After checking their credentials, one of the officers told them what floor the apartment was on. Eliza thanked her as she and Billy climbed the steps of the front stoop and entered the building.
Despite its aged exterior, the inside of the building had been renovated recently and had a more modern appearance. The security system was up to date and included an access system with video capabilities. Eliza easily pinpointed the two security cameras that were mounted in the far left and right corners of the small lobby, and they were pointed at the main entrance of the building. “Get us a warrant to confiscate the security tapes and gain access to the security system,” Eliza said to Billy when she pointed at the two cameras.
“Sure thing.” Billy took out his cell phone to place a call to Captain Espinoza so she could make the request for the warrant. They used the stairs to get to the third floor of the building, and when they reached it, figuring out which apartment the murder had taken place in hadn’t been a difficult task. A group of uniformed officers and law enforcement officials were milling around the hallway outside of one of the doors. Eliza took out her badge as she and Billy got closer to the group, and said, “Detectives Miller and Chilowski. We’ve been assigned to the case. Who’s leading crime scene?”
An officer gestured towards the apartment with his head, and said, “Ferguson.”
Eliza mentally swore at his response. She thanked the officer then turned to look at Billy. “Devon’s the leading the crime scene team.”
“You want me to handle him?”
Eliza shook her head and said, “No. I want to take a look at the scene. Why don’t you get the initial report from the officers?”
Billy nodded, and Eliza walked over to one of the crime scene techs and said, “I need shoe coverings and gloves.”
The woman, Daphne, smiled at her and said, “Detective Miller don’t you ever get a day off?” She retrieved shoe coverings and gloves out of her kit and handed them to Eliza.
“Daphne,” Eliza said as she took the gloves and shoe coverings. She grinned at Daphne as she leaned against the wall to put on the shoe covers. “You know there is no such thing as a day off for me. Devon still making you play his back up?”
Daphne rolled her eyes and let out a frustrated breath. “He doesn’t think I’m ready to handle a scene. Which is absurd since I’ve been working with the team for almost a year now.”
“And it has nothing to do with him being an unbearable control freak?” Eliza muttered under her breath. She noticed Daphne’s raised eyebrow and forced a smile onto her face. “Is he at least in a good mood?” Daphne opened her mouth then closed it. The non-response told Eliza everything she needed to know. Devon was being a douchebag. “Fucking wonderful. Billy.”
Billy held up a finger to the officer he was speaking with and excused himself. He walked over to Eliza and said, “What’s up?”
“Devon is in a dick mood, and there is a chance I might deck him. Gear up and come in with me.” Billy grimaced. “All you need to do is talk to him while I look at the scene,” Eliza explained as she moved towards the entrance of the apartment. When she didn’t hear any movement behind her, Eliza turned around. Billy still stood in the middle of the hallway, apprehension written as clear as day on his face. It took Eliza a second to figure out what his problem was, and when she did, she exclaimed, “You can’t be serious.”
“The body is still in there, Eliza! You know dead bodies make me squeamish,” Billy argued. However, it didn’t change Eliza’s mind.
She closed the gap between them and whispered shortly, “I don’t care if there are ten dead bodies in here. You’re going into this apartment with me. I refuse to get written up for punching out a crime scene investigator. Got it?”
“Or you could not punch Devon,” Billy countered. “That sounds like a logical—”
“If you don’t get your ass in gear, I’m going to tell the captain about this, and she will not be happy,” Eliza threatened. “You’re already on her shit list for the exact same thing.”
Billy glared at her. “You are evil.” He asked Daphne for a set of shoe coverings and a pair of gloves, snatching them from her as he continued to glare at Eliza like a petulant child.
They walked over to the entrance of the apartment, and Eliza waved her hand for Billy to talk. He scowled at her for a quick second then cleared his throat and called out, “Clear to enter?”
“As long as you’re covered,” Devon shouted back.
Billy and Eliza glanced at each, not knowing if he meant the full suit or just the basic coverings they already had on. Shrugging, Eliza entered the apartment, and Billy huffed behind her as he followed. She would deal with his tantrum like she would with any overgrown man-child; by ignoring it. On her way into the apartment, Eliza examined the door jamb for any signs of forcible entry but didn’t see any. This meant who ever had killed the victim either had a key or knew her.
From the entryway Eliza got a good view of the well-decorated apartment. It wasn’t big, but it also wasn’t small, more cozy than anything. To Eliza’s left, there was an impressive flat screen TV mounted on the wall, and she located the speakers which made up the surround sound in various spots of the living room. A black leather sofa and a matching black coffee table were the only furniture in the sitting area. Subtle pieces of abstract art hung beside the TV, adding some decoration to the walls.
Moving further into the apartment, Eliza glanced to her right and found the doorway for the kitchen. A wall blocked it off from the living areas of the apartment, but a long rectangle had been cut out of it, and a counter had been installed to create a breakfast bar. A bowl of fruit sat on top of it. On the surface, nothing seemed to be off in the apartment, but Eliza knew the darker details of a person’s life would emerge the deeper she went. She walked through the apartment, making a thorough survey of each area and noting any oddities that popped out to her.
When she reached the doorway of the bedroom, Eliza stopped in her tracks, making Billy walk into her. The room was bigger than her own, but she didn’t consider it massive. A king-sized bed was situated to where the head of it was against the wall opposite of the bedroom door, and the rest of it jutted out to the center of the room. However, it was the dead woman, whose upper body hung over the edge of the bed, that made Eliza come to a sudden stop
She stood rooted in the doorway, staring at the body for a moment, then her investigative instinct took over, and she entered the room. Mentally cataloging the desk sitting near the window and the two nightstands on each side of the bed, she greeted the only person in the room. “Devon,” she said in a clipped tone.
The older man glanced up at her from his spot in front of the body. “Detective Miller.” He turned his head to look over at the door. Billy lingered in the doorway, not daring to take another step into the room. Devon chuckled as he went back to whatever he was doing “Still afraid of the dead, Chilowski?”
“I’m not afraid of dead bodies,” Billy snapped. “They just creep me out.”
“Uh-huh.” Eliza went over to the desk, and Devon chided, “I said you could come in if you were properly covered. I haven’t gone through everything yet. I’m just finishing up with the body.”
Eliza pulled on her latex gloves and picked up the leather planner sitting on the desk. “You didn’t specify, and I thought I was covered enough.”
“Eliza, I’m not doing this with you tonight.”
“Then tell me what I need to know, and I’ll be out of your way,” she simply stated as she began to flip through the planner’s pages. Appointments filled the appropriate dates, but the notes that accompanied them didn’t make any sense. The most Eliza was able to discern was that the words were either acronyms or abbreviations, possibly a mixture of both.
“How about I tell you about the officers who had traipsed through here without any regard to preserving the crime scene instead? Oh, then I could tell you about how they let the tech guys in here before I arrived, because I was at another scene, and they let those idiots take the victims tech before I had a chance to check for fingerprints or anything else.”
Eliza now understood why he was in a terrible mood, and she released an inaudible, weary sigh, annoyed by the interdepartmental bull shit. “Devon, that’s not my problem. If the officers screwed up, you know who to report it to, and that’s not me. Now, can you please tell me about my victim.” His whining was irritating, and it aggravated Eliza that she had to listen to it. She frowned when she remembered that she wasn’t even supposed to be talking to him. Billy was. She glanced at the bedroom’s doorway and found it empty. Lips pursing tightly, Eliza made a mental note to yell at him after they finished.
Devon muttered something under his breath then said, “Your victim is Angelique Robinson, twenty-seven. Found her wallet in the nightstand on the other side of the bed. There is bruising around her neck, which indicates possible strangulation, however, there are other markers of physical abuse. It’s hard to determine if they were there before the victim’s death or if they happened during her time of death.”
Eliza’s face scrunched up as confusion came over her. “Why is that?”
Devon stood up and expelled a long breath. “Due to the victim’s occupation.” Not following where he was going, Eliza gestured for him to continue. Devon looked at her with a flat stare. “The victim was a licensed sex professional. I came across instruments of her trade while searching for hazardous items and identification. They led me to believe that she may have dabbled in BDSM and rougher sex. So, if the bruises were there before then it narrows down the cause of death to strangulation since the age of the bruises around her neck coincide with the signs of rigor. If the bruises on her body were there at the time of death, then we’ll need to examine it further to determine if they also played a part in her death or were just a professional hazard if you get my drift.”
“I do,” Eliza stated brusquely as she stared down at Angelique’s body. When sex work had become legal in the country, Eliza hadn’t been on board with the new laws, and in some ways, she still wasn’t, but that was due to her own moral beliefs. She understood the arguments for and against legal sex work, and while she didn’t hide behind religious rhetoric, Eliza couldn’t bring herself to be okay with it as a legitimate profession. To her, it seemed like an easy and desperate way to earn income, but the fact that there were people in society who willingly sold themselves for sex bothered her. It was a disturbing point of view of that she couldn’t explain, and in the end, Eliza blamed her Catholic upbringing for her conservative stance on the issue. “So, we’re dealing with a client gone bad kinda situation, huh?”
“I don’t know, Detective, you tell me since that is your job,” Devon sniped, and Eliza pressed her lips together as she stared him down. The urge to call him a sniveling piece of shit sat on the tip of her tongue, but she swallowed it down.
Once Eliza felt like her composure and professionalism would hold, she said, “Thank you for the information, Devon. When you have finished analyzing everything, can you make sure her appointment book gets to me along with her client list if you find it? Please.” Being cordial towards him left a bitter taste in Eliza’s mouth, and she left the room after making her request. Had she remained in the room she would have actually called him a sniveling piece of shit.
Still shaking off her irritation, Eliza looked for Billy. She found him standing in the middle of the kitchen with a stack of mail in his left hand. “Where the fuck did you go?” She snapped. “I told you to talk to him while I looked around. Not the other way around.”
Billy grimaced and said, “It look like you had everything under control.” Before Eliza could go on a tirade, he held up a piece of mail. “This is a letter from Pleasure, Inc., and it’s postmarked with last Thursday’s date. It’s a reminder telling Angelique that she needs to do her six-month mandatory testing for them and the licensing board.” Eliza stared at him, waiting for Billy to say something that would make her forget about reporting him. “This firm is in Manhattan, and I think we should go check it out since it looks like she was affiliated with them.”
Eliza’s scowl remained etched on her face and her eyes continued to bore into Billy as she thought about his suggestion. It was a good starting point for them since Angelique’s apartment didn’t have many clues. Billy had earned his badge today. She stared at him for another second then glanced at her watch. It was almost seven. Eliza didn’t know if this place would still be open or not. She never had to pay for sex, so she didn’t know how these sex firms operated. “Do you think they’re still open?”
“Not certain, but I don’t see any harm in checking it out,” Billy said, sounding more relaxed than he should. Eliza may have changed her mind about reporting him, but he was still on her shit list.
Eliza eyed him skeptically then yanked the letter out of his hand, tossing it on the kitchen counter. “Let’s go.” As they walked out of the kitchen Eliza shouted, “Devon, I want those books as soon as you’re done.”
Eliza pursed her lips as she took off her gloves. The moment they stepped into the building’s hallway, Eliza tossed her gloves into a trash bag then cuffed Billy on the back of the head. “That’s for leaving me to talk to Devon.” She took the coverings on her shoes off and said, “You’re doing the detailed report for our last two cases, and if they don’t meet my standards, you’re doing them again. Got it?”
Billy rubbed the back of his head frowned. “Yeah, I got it. Damn you’re a hard ass sometimes.”
“I’ll be an even bigger hard ass if you do that again,” Eliza countered, stalking away from Billy as he got rid of his gloves and shoe coverings. She wasn’t that upset with him. Devon could have been a bigger pain in the ass. He was just extremely whiny today. However, it was the principal of the matter. She was the senior detective, and Billy was supposed to follow her orders. It was a respect thing.
When Eliza walked out of the building and onto the front stoop, she automatically pulled up the collar of her coat and hunched her shoulders. The cold was an instant shock to her system, and Eliza started grumbling to herself about how she should have moved to Florida while walking to the car.
*****So, what did we think? If you want to read more, the full teaser chapter will be up on my website probably by the end of next week. The book won't be out until, fingers crossed, July. Don't forget to submit a reservation request if you're a US based reader and want a physical copy of the book. I'm doing things a little bit differently this time around.
Tell me what you liked, don't liked, and what you can't wait for in the comments. Have a good weekend!