Authors: R. J. Jagger
R. J. JAGGER
DAY ONEâSEPTEMBER 5
wo heartbeats after Nick Teffinger rang the bell of the expensive contemporary mansion, a naked woman walked across a marble vestibule toward the door, in the process of throwing a long-sleeve shirt over a perfectly tanned body. She had one button done when she opened the door, and looked a lot more like a movie star than a murderer.
Teffinger introduced himself as he shifted his 34-year-old frame from one foot to the other, explained that he was with Denver homicide and asked, “Are you Davica Holland?”
She said nothing and instead studied his eyes.
“One's blue and one's green,” she said. “I couldn't figure it out at first.”
“One of my many flaws.” He couldn't look away. She wasn't just attractive, but dangerously so, with hypnotic green eyes.
He followed her through a vaulted space with marble columns, exotic plants, and modern art. She appeared to be about twenty-seven or twenty-eight. A black tattoo wrapped around her right ankle, something in the nature of a tribal band. Her hair was damp and hung perfectly straight, about six inches below her shoulders. Right now it seemed light brown but no doubt softened to blond when it dried.
The white shirt was flimsy silk.
An incredibly muscled ass pushed it back and forth as she walked.
“You work out,” he said, raking his thick brown hair back with his fingers.
She looked over her shoulder.
“Nice of you to notice.”
“It would be pretty hard not to,” he said. “Did I say that out loud?”
“Yes, you did.”
She stopped and turned, so abruptly that he actually walked into her. “You're here about Angela Pfeiffer, right?” she asked.
“Does that mean her body's shown up?”
He nodded. “We found it yesterday.”
“In a shallow grave, near a railroad spur north of downtown.”
“How'd she die?”
“More than once?”
“A lot more than once.”
She retreated in thought and then asked, “Was she wearing any clothes?”
She exhaled. “So, it's official then. She's actually dead.”
“I'm afraid so.”
She turned, continued walking, and said over her shoulder, “I didn't do it and don't know who did. You're wasting your time with me.”
They ended up in the kitchen, which had to be a thousand square feet or more, replete with granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, and distressed-wood cabinets. A wall of floor-to-ceiling windows showcased incredibly landscaped grounds, including no less than three waterfalls cascading into an aqua blue pool.
Off in the distance, more than a hundred yards away, a couple of gardeners were hard at work.
The woman handed him a cup of coffee.
He said, “Thanks,” took a noisy sip and added, “Nice place.”
She studied him.
“It keeps the rain off my head.”
She reached into an upper cabinet and pulled out something that looked like a small cigarette. Then she stuck it in her mouth, turned on a burner, and lit it. The unmistakable odor of marijuana immediately permeated the air. After a deep hit she offered it to him.
“I better not,” he said. “You go right ahead, though.”
“Our secret, right?”
“I don't see why not.”
She took another hit, paced back and forth, and then looked him dead in the eyes. “I didn't do it.”
“The word is that you two were lovers,” he said. “You had a falling-out and she disappeared shortly after that. Now her body shows up and we see that she's been dead for some timeâmonths.”
She looked at him.
“Since our falling-out.”
He nodded. “Right. Since about then.”
She took another hit from the joint, sucked it in, held her breath, and then blew out. “I'm glad she's dead. I'll tell you that much.”
Teffinger paused midway through a sip of coffee.
“She was a major bitch,” the woman added.
He raised an eyebrow.
“How much of a bitch, exactly?”
The woman retreated in thought. “Enough that I hated her at the end.”
“Hated her enough to kill her?”
The woman didn't hesitate. “Oh, yeah, easily.” She headed out of the room. “Follow me. I'm going to show you something.”
She led Teffinger into the master bedroom. Thick drapes covered the windows and kept the space so dark that he could hardly make out anything, except for the oversized canopy bed. Then, as his eyes adjusted, the vague shapes of dressers and lamps emerged.
She left the room dark and told him to lie down on the bed.
She was only wearing the shirt, with nothing underneath.
She was high.
“I'm not sure that's a good â¦”
She pushed him and he fell into the bed. “Relax,” she said. “I don't limit myself to women, but that's not what this is about.”
He stayed where he was, wondering what she was up to. One thing he did know, though, he liked the sound of her voice. She somehow turned each word into an incredibly sexy and intoxicating melody. Each time she talked, he didn't want her to stop.
“So you're bi?” he asked.
“Bi, tri, wherever the mood and the liquor take me.”
She must have pressed a remote control, because the large box at the end of the bed hummed and a screen rose up. She hopped onto the mattress next to him and propped her head and shoulders up on a pillow.
Teffinger did the same.
Then the screen lit upâa large flat-panel unit with exceptional clarity. On that screen, two women kissed with open mouths, deep and long, with lots of tongue. It took Teffinger a moment to realize that one of the women was Davica.
“That's me and Angela,” Davica said.
He watched. Slowly, the women undressed each other and then licked each other's nipples. Teffinger knew he should look away but couldn't. Instead he wondered just how far things would go. It didn't take long to find out. Angela was on her back now, with her legs spread wide, as Davica worked her over with her tongue. After what seemed like a long time, they switched positions.
He lay there, next to Davica, as she withered in orgasm on the screen.
There was more than just sex between the two women.
There was passion.
When it was over, a half hour or more later, she said, “You see how much I loved her? Well, that's the same amount I hated her, at the end. So if you're looking for motive, congratulations. You just found it in spades.”
She removed the DVD and set it on top of the player.
“I'll leave this here, so you'll be able to find it if you ever feel the need to get a search warrant and take it,” she said. “People's Exhibit A.”
Back in the kitchen, they drank more coffee and talked, but not about the case. Then she showed him around the grounds.
As far as he could tell, Davica hadn't yet replaced Angela with anyone else in her life, female or male.
He looked at his watch and was shocked to see it was almost noon. Shit, time to go. She walked him out to the Tundra and, just as he was about to pull away, she tapped on the window.
He powered it down.
She leaned in.
“I threatened to kill her. Did I mention that?”
“No, you must have forgot.”
“Talk to Natalie, down at Femme, in Glendale,” she said. “She'll tell you all about it. It's always exciting, isn't it?”
“The first time you meet the next person you're going to sleep with.”
DAY ONEâSEPTEMBER 5
arrying a leather briefcase without a single thing inside except a ballpoint pen and a freshly sharpened No. 2 pencil, Aspen Wilde squeezed her 25-year-old body into the elevator, saw that the button for Floor 45 was already lit, and took a deep breath as she ascended to the lofty offices of her new employerâHogan, Slate & Dover, LLC.
She didn't feel like a lawyer.
Even though, technically, she had been one since 2:00
on Friday when she got sworn in.
She wore a gray pinstriped skirt, a matching jacket, a crisp white blouse, and black leather shoes with a one-inch heel, all purchased with plastic on Saturday. She had minimal makeup and styled her shoulder-length brown hair close to her head, to give it a trim professional look, even though she didn't particularly like it that way.
The clothes felt foreign, as if they belonged to someone else.
They were a far cry from the usual jeans and T.
She pushed through the glass doors into the reception area, got informed by a way-too-cute receptionist that the office manager hadn't arrived yet, and was invited to wait in the lobby.
Instead, she walked down to the 44th Floor to see if Rachel Ringer was in.
Having served as a summer law clerk for the firm a year ago, between her second and third years of law school, she wasn't exactly a stranger to the officeâalthough, she had to admit, most of that two-month tenure had been spent stuffed inside a windowless cubicle surfing Westlaw and cranking out memos.
Summer law clerks came and went.
Most of the firm's attorneys didn't have the time or inclination to find out much about them, other than whether they could do the work and do it quickly.
Rachel had been different.
She'd taken an actual interest in Aspen.
Aspen stopped in the kitchen to get coffee, hoping to see someone she knew, but found no one. She filled the a cup, took a sip, found it to her liking, and then trekked down the hall to Rachel's office. As she got closer, she saw that the light was on.
She walked in, beaming, anxious to see the look on her face. Except it wasn't Rachel sitting behind the desk. Instead, it was someone else, a young Asian woman with captivating almond eyes and shiny black hair, dressed to impress. She appeared to be more curious than startled when Aspen walked in.
“Oops,” Aspen said. “Wrong office, sorry.”
Embarrassed, she ducked out before the woman could say anything, then got her bearings and realized it wasn't the wrong office after all.
She edged back over to the door and stuck her head in.
“Sorry to bother you,” she said. “I'm looking for Rachel Ringer.”
“She hasn't been here for months,” the woman said. Aspen must have had a puzzled look on her face, because the woman added, “Haven't you heard?”
No, she hadn't.
The Asian woman turned out to be a third-year associate named Christina Tam, an exotic woman of moderate build and an incredibly small waist, who wore expensive designer glasses. Ivy league diplomas and awards filled the wall behind her.
“No one's seen or heard from Rachel since April,” Christina said.
“Why? What happened?”
Christina looked stressed. “No one knows for sure, other than she just suddenly vanished.”
Aspen wrinkled her forehead. “Vanished where?”
“She had an eight o'clock dinner meeting scheduled with two of the firm's partners at The Fort one night. You know where The Fort is, right?”
Aspen shook her head.
No, she didn't.
“It's sort of out in the foothills off Highway 8, south of Red Rocks,” she said. “It's one of those fancy-schmancy places where people go on special occasions. They serve buffalo, that's their big thing.”