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Authors: Heather Graham

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BOOK: The Death Dealer
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“She wasn’t hooking,” the woman snapped.

“I didn’t suggest she was,” he assured her.

“You two cops?” the woman demanded.

“No, no,” Genevieve said quickly, and stepped forward, offering her hand. “I’m Genevieve O’Brian, and this is Joe Connolly. We just wanted to talk to Lori, that’s all.”

The woman’s shoulders sagged, as if she didn’t have the energy to be angry anymore. “She’s really a sweet girl. She deserves a break.”

“I’m sure she does,” Joe said, and he was surprised to realize he wasn’t being sarcastic. He had been stunned himself to feel that something about Lori Star’s words had felt real and that she really had seemed like a nice kid.

The woman smiled. “I’m Susie Norman, by the way, and I’m sorry I can’t help you.” She brightened. “Next time I see Lori, I’ll tell her you were here, though.”

“Thanks,” Joe said. He slipped a business card under Lori’s door, then walked over and handed one to Susie. “Here’s my number, in case you think of anything to help us find her. And thanks again.”

When they reached the street, Genevieve looked at Joe expectantly. “What now?”

“Now I have to check on some alibis.”

“Okay. Where do we start?”

He shook his head, looking at her with exasperation. “Genevieve, you hired
me
to do this job. That means
I
do the work, and
you
head on home and enjoy what’s left of your Sunday.”

“Joe, I’ve spent enough time closed up in my house. Where do we go from here?”

“I need to do some work on the computer and make some phone calls,” he told her.

“I have a computer.”

“And all my contact numbers and stuff are at my house.”

“I’m willing to bet your contact numbers are in your phone,” Genevieve told him.

No way out of it. He let out a sigh of vast exasperation. “Then you’re coming to Brooklyn,” he told her.

She smiled. “Fine.”

Sunday in New York. It seemed as if every dog owner in the city was out. A poodle took issue with a Doberman. The owners sounded as if they were barking right along with their dogs as they accused each other of causing the problem. A Maltese went trotting by with its owner, a shaggy-haired young girl. Both were oblivious to the shouting match as they walked by.

Joe hailed a cab for Genevieve’s apartment, where they retrieved his car. The Sunday traffic wasn’t bad, and she seemed to enjoy the ride, looking out the window, watching as they traveled over the Brooklyn Bridge.

Joe realized that although they had been friends for over a year, he’d kept his distance. She had never been to his place before.

He lived in an old brownstone. It was three stories, plus a basement, and he had the basement and the first floor. He even had a reserved parking space, which was something of a coup in his neighborhood, which was residential, but just a block off a commercial boulevard, where he could go for coffee, or great Chinese, Italian or diner-style American food whenever he chose.

But entering his place with Genevieve brought with it a stab of pain.

Leslie was the last woman he’d brought here.

And she had told him about the ghost in his basement, a Civil War era musician who had wanted the work he’d left behind to be found and performed.

Ghosts.

He’d spent his life being logical. He hadn’t believed in ghosts. But then he’d met Leslie and through her, a man named Adam Harrison and some of his employees, a group of people who found it as natural to talk to ghosts as it was to converse with strangers at a party.

But despite everything he had come to know about Leslie and, through her, Adam Harrison and his group of paranormal investigators, he had fought against believing in any of it.

But then he had spoken to a dead man on the highway, and after that, a corpse had looked up at him at the morgue and spoken….

Ridiculous. It was all ridiculous.

He’d been working too hard. Or not getting enough sleep. Hell, maybe he actually needed to start drinking more.

“Make yourself at home,” he told Genevieve.

He couldn’t help watching her as she looked around his apartment.

And he couldn’t help wondering if he didn’t have a little bit of a chip on his shoulder where she was concerned. He’d always worked hard and made a decent income, and he was good at investing the extra, so finances weren’t a worry. But Genevieve O’Brien was the kind of rich that went beyond most people’s dreams, including his.

Still, she had chosen a life of service to others, even before her kidnapping. She had worked the meanest streets in town. She had tried to save prostitutes and their children. She had fought against heroin and crack addiction, and dealt with those who were down and out and even those suffering from AIDS. She had never given any indication that she was a spoiled rich kid just because her family had obscene amounts of money.

She smiled, her eyes meeting his. “Joe, this place is great. That’s one of the most fantastic fireplaces ever.”

“Thanks,” he said. “Kitchen is there, so help yourself if you want something to drink. I’ve usually got beer, wine, soda. And food, if you’re hungry. There’s a TV over there, and a pool table downstairs, if you get bored. I’ll be in my office, right down the hall.”

“Thanks. And don’t worry about me. I’m fine. Mind if I go through your CD collection?”

“Knock yourself out.”

“Thanks.”

He nodded, still feeling oddly awkward, and walked down the hall to his office. It was lined with oak bookshelves and three-drawer filing cabinets. His desk was an antique that might have belonged to Uriah Heap, if he’d been real and not a character in a book.

He put through a call to Raif Green at his home.

“Hey, Joe, got anything?” Raif asked as soon as Joe identified himself.

“No, sorry. I was hoping
you
might have something to tell
me.”

“To tell you the truth…we basically have nothing,” Raif admitted. “Except what we’ve known from the beginning. Thorne Bigelow knew his killer. He let the person in, and he was willing to sit there and drink wine with him or her. So we’re looking at friends and acquaintances.”

“What’s your take on the butler?”

“Apparently, he ‘buttled’ very well,” Raif said.

“But he was there the whole time,” Joe pointed out.

“We don’t have a thing on him. We searched the house, but there was no sign of poison anywhere, including in his quarters. Naturally we looked at his son, but there was nothing to prove he was there earlier. Same thing with the aunt. The two of them arrived together.”

“Still, I’m assuming the son had the most to gain from his death?”

“Of course. We’ve talked to Bigelow’s attorney, and except for some special endowments and individual bequests, Jared Bigelow inherits everything.”

“I’m going to assume you’ve looked into the rest of the Ravens’ alibis?” Joe said.

He heard Raif’s sigh. “Yes, of course.”

“Want to give me a list?”

“Larry Levine was at the paper.”

“On the weekend?”

“Yeah, a doorman vouched for him. Brook Avery was at home, watching television. He spoke to a neighbor around three o’clock. Um, hang on. I’ll get my notes.” There was some shuffling. Joe could hear a woman’s voice, calling Raif to dinner. He promised her that he’d be right there. Joe tried to imagine Raif Green’s domestic life. Sometimes he seemed sad and burned-out, but he had kids at home. And a wife. He investigated murders every day, then went home to kids and homework and meatloaf.

Raif came back on the line. “Nat Halloway was working on his clients’ files at his office. He was seen by a cleaning woman. Don Tracy, the actor…was rehearsing a one-man play. We verified his alibi with the director and the rest of the cast. Lila Hawkins was at a blood-donation center, seen by a dozen people around four o’clock. Barbara Hirshorn…home alone watching television. Verified by a neighbor, who saw Barbara when she went out for groceries. Lou Sayles was at an afternoon party for a retiring schoolteacher. Out in Brooklyn Heights. Verified by half a dozen people. I think we’ve got them all covered. Oh, yeah, your friend. Eileen Brideswell. She was home, too, verified by Bertha Landry, her live-in maid, and Henry Grant, her…jack of all trades, I guess you’d call him. Besides, I can guarantee you that Eileen Brideswell is as law-abiding as they come.”

“Thanks,” Joe said. “But you know, Raif…”

“Yeah?”

“I’m not sure any one of those is a really good alibi, the kind that guarantees someone didn’t slip out to Bigelow’s place for a half hour or so.”

“Yeah, I know,” Raif said.

“So…”

“There are laws, Joe,” Raif said. “I’m a public servant. I can’t just barge into people’s houses and search them without a warrant. I haven’t got a thing to hold anyone on.”

“What about the accident on the FDR?” Joe asked.

“What about it? That’s Traffic’s job. I can’t do a damned thing when there’s no one out there who can give me anything more than a dark sedan that was driving erratically. I can’t connect that accident—even if Sam Latham is still in the hospital—to Thorne Bigelow’s murder. And if we’re talking Poe…”

“Yeah, yeah. Poe had no vehicular homicides in his stories. Got ya,” Joe said.

“Of course, you’re a private investigator…” Raif reminded him, letting the words trail off suggestively.

“And your point is…?”

“You’re not subject to quite as much shit as I am.”

“Great. Are you going to get me out of jail when they lock me up for breaking and entering, or whatever it is you’re suggesting I do?” Joe asked.

“Joe, I’m not suggesting you do
any
thing illegal,” Raif protested. “Not that you couldn’t push the boundaries a little if you needed to.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“The thing is…”

“What?”

“Well, if Bigelow
was
killed because of the Poe thing…”

“Then you think the killer will end up striking again before he’s caught, is that what you’re saying?” Joe asked.

“Sadly, yes,” Raif said.

Joe heard the woman’s voice calling out to Raif again. “Go eat your dinner before it gets cold,” Joe said.

“Yeah, thanks, I will. Don’t forget, Joe, if you get anything…”

“You know I’ll call you,” Joe promised, and hung up.

He pulled out a map of Manhattan and started going through alibis one by one. Brook Avery lived uptown; if he was where he said he’d been, getting down to Bigelow’s place would have taken a while. Joe put his name on one list. On the other hand, Larry Levine’s office was relatively close to Bigelow. He could have slipped out easily. His name went on a second list.

Joe kept going. Don Tracy. The theater was close enough, too. Don’s name went under Larry’s.

He put Jared Bigelow and Mary Vincenzo on that list, too.

Along with the butler.

Lou Sayles had the best alibi. He put her name on the list with Brook’s. Lila Hawkins, big, pushy Lila, had been uptown at the blood-donation center. Her name, too, went on the “improbable” list. He hesitated when he got to Barbara Hirshorn. She was afraid of her own shadow, but her home was near Bigelow’s. He didn’t really see her as a potential killer, but he put her name on the “follow up first” list anyway.

He drummed his fingers on the desk, then decided to start with Jared. Why not go for the obvious?

The butler had been an easy choice, but if the butler hadn’t done it…

Patricide was as old as history. And Jared Bigelow was the one who would profit the most from his father’s death.

Edgar Allan Poe, so they said, was the father of the detective story. And he and his Monsieur Dupin had used “ratiocination,” or rational deduction, as their method of investigation.

So, rationally, who benefitted? And who not only had motive but opportunity?

He skipped over Poe and thought about Sherlock Holmes, who always told Watson that you needed to get rid of the impossible, and then what was left, no matter how improbable, had to be the truth.

Joe groaned softly, looking at his notes.

So far,
nothing
seemed to be impossible.

Not even talking to dead people.

CHAPTER 8

Genevieve’s cell phone rang and she answered it absently. “Hello?”

“Oh, thank God!” It was her mother’s voice.

Gen smiled. “Mother, I’m fine.”

“I tried calling the apartment,” Eileen said, as if that were a perfectly acceptable explanation for sounding so worried.

“I’m with Joe.”

“Oh? That’s wonderful.” Her mother adored Joe, Gen knew.

Yes, and why not? Without him, she might not be here.

“Hey, I’m the one who should be calling, and panicking about you,” Genevieve reminded her mother. “Promise me that you won’t go anywhere alone. Or with any of the other Ravens,” Genevieve said sternly.

“Those people are my friends, you know. Most of them. Well, some of them,” Eileen said.

“One of them could be a killer.”

“And poor Thorne might have been killed for some other reason entirely,” Eileen reminded her. “But never mind, I didn’t call to argue with you.”

“No, you called to check up on me,” Genevieve said with a laugh.

“Do you blame me, dear?”

“Never,” Genevieve promised.

“Well, I’ll let you go, now that I know you’re all right. Enjoy the rest of your day with Joe.”

“Sure. And thanks,” Genevieve said, then rang off.

Enjoy her day with Joe?

He was in his office; she was here alone.

But at least she was
here.
For whatever good that did her.

Restlessly, she stood. He had a great CD collection, and an appreciation for music that went beyond eclectic and on to boundless. He had the classics, from Pavarotti to Wagner, country, soul, rhythm and blues, rock, even some trance. She put in a Buddy Holly CD and tried to relax.

No good. She was too restless.

He’d told her to make herself at home. Since she wasn’t hungry or thirsty, the kitchen held no great allure, so she decided to explore the basement.

It had been finished, and now it was perfect for intimate entertaining. That made her think about the way Joe thought about
her.
He had a dual vision of her.

Little rich girl.

And damaged goods.

What could she do to change that?

Perhaps it couldn’t be changed. Perhaps…

Perhaps he simply didn’t find her attractive, she told herself.

Here she was, thinking about Joe, about being damaged, about the past, wondering why he wasn’t making a move on her, when he was upstairs doing exactly what she had asked of him: working on the case.

And then something very strange happened.

She didn’t close her eyes, but it was as if she were seeing something else besides this room. Almost as if she herself
was
someone else.

She was walking down the street, anxious and excited. She was going to meet someone, and that someone was going to change her life. It was all very hush-hush, because it was so important. Someone was going to take a chance.

On her.

For her.

This was her chance to be rich and famous. Well, he was going to pay her well, so rich, anyway.

And if things went the way they should…

She was almost at the place where they’d planned to meet, and she hoped he wouldn’t be late. That he would be there waiting for her.

She knew she hadn’t been followed.

That no one knew where she was.

She was about to see a man about a horse….

Genevieve blinked. She was in Joe’s basement again, staring at the pool table. For a moment, her hands shook. What the hell had that been? She couldn’t believe she was seeing things.

Oh, great. Damaged goods to begin with, and now she was going crazy. No. She was
not
going to allow herself to crack.

She ran up the stairs. Joe was still in his office. He hadn’t heard her; he obviously didn’t know anything was wrong.

Because nothing
was
wrong.

She turned up Buddy Holly, then headed back to the basement, determined not to worry about her love life—or complete lack thereof—anymore.

 

Joe sighed, rose and stretched, surprised at how long he’d been at his desk. He walked out to the living room.

Buddy Holly was playing on the stereo, but Genevieve was nowhere to be seen.

He noticed that the door to the basement stairway was open. Then he heard a series of clicking sounds and realized she was downstairs, playing pool.

He walked down to join her, and on the way he noticed the brick wall and remembered how Leslie had told him that he would find music there if he tore it out. She hadn’t felt ready to admit that she talked to ghosts then, so she had just told him that she did a lot of research in the course of her work and had happened to stumble across some information about his building.

Yeah, right. Accidental research, right where he happened to live.

He remembered their conversations, too. How he had thought she simply needed time to get over Matt, because it had seemed clear that she was drawn to him. Well, she was with Matt now. Whether there was an afterlife or only a dark void, they were together.

“You all right?” Genevieve asked. She was standing by the pool table, her cue in hand, staring at him, and he realized that he must have been standing there, lost in thought.

“Yeah, sure, fine.”

“Find out anything?” she asked.

“No.” Eager to take his mind off his thoughts of a moment ago, he picked up a cue stick himself. “I’ll rack ’em,” he said.

She watched while he gathered and set the balls. “Break?” he asked her.

“Sure.”

She was an exceptional player. She almost cleaned the table with her break.

“I didn’t know rich kids got to be such sharks,” he told her teasingly.

He was surprised when she paused, smoothing back a stray lock of her glorious auburn hair, and said, “I really wish you would quit that,” she said.

“What?”

“Staring at me as if I grew up on another planet,” she said.

“Sorry.”

He stared at the brick wall, picturing the day Leslie had been there. She had talked to dead people. And
he
had talked to a dead man on the FDR. No. The medics must have been wrong. The guy had somehow survived long enough to save his niece.

But what about the morgue?

He’d been tired. Mind playing tricks.

“Joe?”

“Yeah, sorry.”

She set her cue stick down. “I’d like to go home now, if you don’t mind.”

“We’re in the middle of a game.”

“No. You’re in the middle of your memories. And that’s all right. But I’d just like to go home.”

He nodded. “Sure.”

She was silent during the drive back to her place. Dusk was falling, and it seemed to have thrown a dark shadow over her. Over them.

As they neared her apartment, she said, “You can just drop me off in front.”

“Not in this lifetime,” he told her.

“There’s a doorman on duty.”

“Not good enough,” he said.

“Joe, I…don’t want or need to be protected.”

“And I won’t work this case unless you’re careful and take every precaution.”

She lifted her hands in a gesture of futility.

He parked the car, and walked with her past the doorman and the security guard on duty downstairs, and then up to her apartment.

When she opened her door, he just stood in the hallway, inhaling the scent of her perfume, light and evocative of summer breezes somewhere far from Manhattan.

Like the scent of her hair. Clean and inviting…

“You have to stop sleeping with her, you know,” she told him softly, turning to face him.

“What?”

“Leslie.”

“I never slept with Leslie,” he heard himself say, and his words were far more curt than he had intended.

“But she’s haunting you anyway,” she said.

“Leslie is dead. Like Matt,” he said.

“And I’m alive because of her,” she said.

He shook his head. “I’m not sleeping with Leslie, even in my dreams,” he said.

He was surprised when a slight smile curved her lips. “No?”

“No.”

“You’re sure?”

He frowned. “Gen…this is awkward.”

“It shouldn’t be,” she whispered, something he couldn’t define in her tone.

He shook his head, feeling lost, a little bit confused and more than a little bit dazed by the scent of her perfume, her hair…her nearness.

What was there not to like about Genevieve?

What was there not to
want
about Genevieve?

Blue eyes, intelligent, direct, seductive, alluring…That hair, like dark auburn fire, as soft as silk. Her height, her shape, slim and perfectly curved. She was erotic and enticing, everything God had intended for a woman to be, but he had somehow kept his distance in the past because…

Because of everything she had been through.

He suddenly felt as if he couldn’t think, couldn’t speak, but he tried. “I…I cared about Leslie, yes. Very much. But she was still in love with Matt. And now…I like to think that they’re together now.” He hadn’t realized that he was touching her, but he was. His hands were on her shoulders. And she was close, actually leaning against him. He could feel the warmth of her. Every breath he took was filled with the scent of her.

“So you’re really not sleeping with her in your dreams?” she whispered.

“No.”

“Then maybe you want to sleep with me. In the flesh.”

Oh, Lord.

“Genevieve…”

He felt alive in a way he hadn’t felt in what seemed like eons. Fire was racing through his veins. He could feel her heartbeat. Her every breath.

“Gen…after everything you’ve been through…”

She clutched his hand, bringing it to her heart, her breast. “I’m alive, Joe. I’m not broken, not dead and I need to feel alive. Please…” She winced, almost backing away from him, but he wouldn’t let her. “Talk about awkward. Here I am, throwing myself at you, and you’re turning me down. I’m sorry. You don’t have to—”

Enough.

He bent and kissed her. At first she was surprised. Then his mouth softened over hers, and she responded, rising on her toes, pressing against his body. Each cell in his body seemed to feel her slightest touch. Her mouth parted beneath his, wide, wet, deliciously decadent. She kissed with her tongue, erotic and sweet, the kind of thing that made a man forget everything in the world except her kiss. And she was still holding his hand against her breast. He kept kissing her, tasting her lips, playing with her tongue, seductive, suggestive….

He picked her up. She was tall for a woman, but small against his size. He knew the layout of her apartment and carried her to her bedroom, where he simply placed her on the bed, before lying down beside her.

There was no neat, leisurely discarding of their clothing. The buttons of her blouse simply gave way to the ministration of his fingers as they slipped beneath the hem, stroking over the tautness of her abdomen to the fullness of her breast. Her bra was an annoyance that somehow went away as soon as he found the hook. And then his face was buried between her breasts, ministering to them with hot, wet kisses, tender and hungry, subtle and raw. And then her jeans disappeared. The snap first, then the zipper lowering, his hand sliding down to cradle her hip, dislodging the denim, then caressing her skin as it moved lower, until the jeans, along with the little string panties beneath them, were gone.

His shirt hung open, and his own pants lay on the floor, tangled with hers, though he had no idea how they’d gotten there. His black briefs hit the floor, as well, and then she was crushed against him, the tip of her tongue sliding over his flesh. He groaned, his erection suddenly painful, but then he was lost in the sensation of her fingers on his flesh. Suddenly the two of them were a tangle of lips and tongues and teeth, and they were touching, touching….

He’d always thought that he would be so tender, so careful, if the thought of making love to her that had teased his imagination had ever come to fruition.

Her kidnapper had been impotent and cruel, and she had survived by playing to the man’s ego. Because of that, he
should
have been slow. Careful. Tender.

But she was like a lava flow in his arms, radiant, electrifyingly hot, her touch boldly erotic. She was a writhing cascade of carnal beauty and desire in his arms, and he couldn’t be gentle, couldn’t take the time for tender, as his senses sent him spiraling out of control. Later he would remember straddling her, kissing her lips and looking into her eyes, those dark pools of half-lidded blue, and then his mouth was caressing her breasts, and his fingers were sliding between her thighs, his body adjusting to her exquisite length as he slid against her. Then his lips were moving lower over her abdomen, to the concave mystery between her thighs. When she cried out and arched against him, he moved again, driving himself into her, so aroused that he felt as if he was about to crawl out of his own skin. The world came down to nothing but the two of them, their naked, hot, wet flesh, their hunger and need, and then, cataclysmically, a combustion of muscle, sinew and flesh as he felt her climax, then followed her as if rockets had flared in the night.

And then…

He felt guilty. Torn.

But then she touched his face. Touched it so tenderly, as he slipped down by her side, cradling her against him.

“Joe,” she said softly. And then, “Thank you. Thank you for being so…normal.”

God, he didn’t want to lose his heart so quickly. He may have lost his mind, but the world was still real, and they were who were they were, and normal or not, they were both still damaged.

“Normal?” he teased softly. “
Normal?
Do you know how to flatter a guy, or what? How about, ‘Oh, Joe, you were incredible’?”

She laughed then, snuggling more tightly against him, and said, “Oh, Joe. You
were
incredible.”

“Except I had to coach you to say so,” he said.

They lay together for a while, just breathing, just being…And then her delicate hands with their talented fingers were on him again and she whispered, “If you’re just as good a second time, I promise you won’t have to tell me what to say.”

BOOK: The Death Dealer
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