J.D. Robb , also known to us as Nora Roberts, is a best-selling novelist with over 200 books under her belt. She has written under her own name, but currently writes under the pseudonym J.D. Robb for her popular ‘…in Death’ series.
Today, in an exclusive for the Starts at 60 community, we are able to share the first chapter from her the 50th book in the series, Obsession In Death. Please enjoy this brilliant piece of writing and enter our competition to win a copy below.
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On a cold, crisp morning in the waning days of 2060, Lieutenant Eve Dallas stood in a sumptuous bedroom done in bold strokes of rich purple, deep metallic grays, and quick splashes of green. Outside the ad blimps manically touted the AFTER CHRISTMAS BLOWOUT SALES! and street vendors hyped fake designer wrist units and knockoff handbags to throngs of tourists packed into the city for the holiday week.
Outside life went on. Inside the plush bedroom with all its color and style, it has stopped.
An enormous arrangement of white lilies and purple roses in a tall, mirrored vase on the pedestal centered in the wide window couldn’t quite mask the smell of death. Instead the fragrance layered over it, sickly sweet.
On a bed big enough for six lay the body of a woman who’d once been a stunner. Even now her meticulous style showed in the perfect coordination of silver lounging pants, silky lavender top, the perfectly manicured nails—hands and feet—with polish of dark purple on all ten digits.
Her heavily lashed eyes stared straight up to the ceiling, as if mildly puzzled.
A razorthin, bonedeep wound circled her throat. Blood, now congealed, had spilled from that ugly curve to soil and spoil the soft gray bedding and mat in the fall of pale blonde hair.
Her tongue sat in a faceted glass dish on the glossy nightstand beside the bed.
But the kicker, at least for Eve, was the message written on the wall above the thickly padded headboard, in precise block lettering, black against the gray.
FOR LIEUTENANT EVE DALLAS,
WITH GREAT ADMIRATION AND UNDERSTANDING.
HER LIFE WAS A LIE; HER DEATH OUR TRUTH.
SHE SHOWED YOU NO RESPECT, SPOKE ILL OF YOU,
SOUGHT TO PROFIT BY UNDERMINING ALL YOU WORK FOR.
IT WAS MY PLEASURE AND MY HONOR TO BALANCE THE SCALES. JUSTICE HAS BEEN SERVED.
YOUR TRUE AND LOYAL FRIEND.
Beside Eve, her partner, Detective Peabody, blew out a long breath. “Holy shit, Dallas.”
Whether or not Eve thought the same, she turned to the uniformed officer in the bedroom doorway. “Who found her?”
“Her admin. The vic missed a dinner meeting last night, then didn’t come in to work, where she had a morning meeting. So the admin, Cecil Haversham, came by. Nobody could reach her via ’link, she didn’t answer the door. He had her codes and key pass—stated he waters her plants and whatnot when she’s out of town. Let himself in at about ninefifteen, heard the bedroom screen on like it is now, and walked through until he found her. We got the nineoneone at ninenineteen, so the timing works.”
“Where is he?”
“Place has a dining area you can close off. We’re sitting on him there.”
“Keep sitting. I want the building’s security discs, exterior, interior, and I want a canvass started, beginning with this floor.”
“Yes, sir.” He jutted his chin to the writing on the wall. “You know the vic?”
“I’ve had some dealings with her.” To discourage any more questions, Eve turned away.
She and Peabody had sealed up on entering the apartment. She’d turned on her recorder before stepping into the bedroom. Now she stood a moment, a tall, slim woman with short, tousled brown hair, with longlidded eyes of gilded brown copflat in her angular face.
Yeah, they’d had some dealings, she thought now, and she hadn’t had a modicum of liking for the victim. But it appeared she and Peabody would be spending the last days of the year standing for the oncehighpowered defense attorney who’d had—to Eve’s mind—the ethics of a rattlesnake.
“Let’s verify ID, Peabody, and keep every step of this strict on procedure.”
With a nod, Peabody took off her pink leather coat—Eve’s Christmas gift—set it carefully aside before she pulled her Identipad from her field kit. With her striped pink pompom hat still over her flip of dark hair, she approached the body. “Victim is identified as Leanore Bastwick of this address.”
“Cause of death looks pretty straightforward. Strangulation, probably a wire garrote, but the ME will confirm. Get time of death.”
Again Peabody dug into her field kit. She worked the gauges, angled, as she read Eve’s unspoken order, so the record would pick up everything.
“No sign of struggle, no visible defensive wounds or other injuries. No sign, at a glance, of forced entry. The vic’s fully dressed, and there’s plenty of easily transported valuables sitting out. It doesn’t read sexual assault or burglary. It reads straight murder.”
Peabody lifted her gaze to the message on the wall. “Literally reads.”
“Yeah. Security discs may tell a different tale, but it looks like the vic opened the door—someone she knew or thought she knew. Her killer disabled her—note to ME to put priority on tox screens, check body for any marks from a stunner or pressure syringe—or forced her back here. Places like this have excellent soundproofing, so she could have shouted for help, screamed, and it’s not likely anyone heard. Windows are privacy screened.”
“No sign on her wrists, her ankles that the killer used restraints.”
Eve approached the body now, examined the head, lifted it up, to check the back of the skull. “No injuries that indicate blunt force trauma.”
She reached into her own field kit for microgoggles, took a closer look. “Abrasion, small contusion. Fell back, hit her head maybe. Disabled, drugged or stunned, either when she opened the door, or if she knew the killer, after he was inside. Back here, carrying her or forcing her. The bedding’s not even mussed, the pillows are still stacked up behind her.”
Lifting one of the hands, she examined the fingers, the nails, under the nails. “Clean, no trace here, nothing to indicate she got a piece of her killer. You’re going to struggle, if you can, when somebody garrotes you, so she couldn’t struggle.”
With the microgoggles still in place, Eve leaned over the crystal dish to examine the severed tongue. “It looks pretty clean—not jagged, not sawed. Probably a thin, sharp blade. Maybe a scalpel. Can’t talk trash without your tongue,” she said half to herself. “Can’t defend criminals if you can’t talk. This was a little something extra, a symbol, a . . . token.”
Eve studied the message, coated a layer of ice over that sick thought. “Like I said, it reads that way. We butted heads over Jess Barrow a couple years back, and just before that when her partner was killed. She was a hardass, but she was mostly doing her job. Doing it as she saw it.”
Turning from the body now, Eve walked over into a large and perfectly appointed dressing room. “She’s got an outfit set out here. Black dress, fancy shoes, underwear, and jewelry to go with it that looks like the real deal. Nothing disturbed. She’d gotten out the wardrobe for her dinner meeting.”
She moved from there into an elaborate master bath, all white and silver. More purple flowers—must have been a favorite—in a square vase of clear glass on the long white counter.
“Towels on a warming rack, a robe on the hook by the shower, a glass of wine and some sort of face gunk set out on the counter.”
“It’s a mask.”
“I don’t see a mask.”
“A facial mask,” Peabody elaborated, patting her own cheeks. “And that’s a really highend brand. Since there’s nothing else set out, it looks like maybe she’d been about to give herself a facial, have some wine while it set, then take a shower, but she went to answer the door.”
“Okay, good. She’s prepping for the meeting—we’ll check her home office—going to get clean and shiny, but somebody comes to the door.”
Eve walked out as she continued. “Nothing disturbed out here. Screen on in the bedroom—a little company or entertainment while she gets ready for dinner. She’s back there, in the bath or the dressing room when she gets the buzz.”
“Security on the main door,” Peabody pointed out. “Buzzed the killer in?”
“The security feed should tell us. However he got inside the building, she answers the door.”
She imagined it, Bastwick in her swanky athome wear, going to the door. Look through the security peep first, check the monitor?
Why have good security if you didn’t use it? Used it, Eve concluded, felt no threat. Opened the door.
“He takes her down,” she continued. “Drags or carries her.”
“Or she took him back?” Peabody suggested. “A lover maybe?”
“She’s got a meeting. She doesn’t have time for sex. Not wearing sex clothes, no face enhancements. Could’ve forced her back, but it doesn’t feel like it. Nothing disturbed. Nothing out of place.”
Eve paused there, went back in, studied Bastwick’s feet, still cased in silvery slippers. “No scuffs on the heels. She wasn’t dragged.”
“Carried her, then.” Peabody, lips pursed in her square face, gauged the distance from living area to bedroom. “If he did take her down in here, it’s a good distance to cart her. Why?”
“Yeah, why? No overt signs of sexual assault. Maybe he redressed her after, but . . . Morris will tell us. Killer gets her onto the bed. No sign she was gagged, but the ME will check that, too. He kills her while she’s still out or stunned. Quick, cuts out her tongue to prove a point, writes the message so I’ll know what a favor he did for me, then gets out.
“Let’s talk to the admin, then review the discs. I want to go over this place before we call in the sweepers.”
Cecil Haversham looked like his name. Formal with a side of dapper. He wore his hair white, short, and Caesarean, which suited the natty, perfectly trimmed goatee. The center leg pleats on his stonegray threepiece suit looked sharp enough to draw blood.
Distress emanated from him in apologetic waves as he sat on a curved back chair at the side of the lipstick red dining table with his hands neatly folded.
Eve nodded to the uniform to dismiss her, then rounded to the head of the table with Peabody taking the chair opposite their witness.
“Mr. Haversham, I’m Lieutenant Dallas, and this is Detective Peabody. I understand this is a difficult time for you.”
“It’s very disturbing.” His voice carried the faintest whiff of British upper class, though Eve’s quick run on him gave his birthplace as Toledo, Ohio.
“How long have you worked for Ms. Bastwick?”
“Nearly two years as her administrative assistant. Prior I served as Mr. Vance Collier’s—of Swan, Colbreck, Collier and Ives—admin.”
“And how did you come into her employ?”
“She offered me the position, at a considerable increase in salary and benefits. And I felt moving into criminal law from corporate and tax law would be . . . more stimulating.”
“As her admin, you’d be privy to her case files, her clients, and her social engagements.”
“Yes, of course. Ms. Bastwick is . . . was a very busy woman, professionally and personally. Part of my duties is to arrange her schedule, keep her calendar, make certain her time was well managed.”
“Do you know of anyone who’d wish Ms. Bastwick harm?”
“As a criminal defense attorney, she made enemies, of course. Prosecuting attorneys, clients who felt she hadn’t performed adequately—which would be nonsense, of course—and those individuals represented by the prosecution. Even some police.”
He gave Eve a steady if slightly distressed look. “It would be the nature of her work, you see.” “Yeah. Does anyone stand out?”
“I’ve been asking myself that as I sat here, digesting it all. There have been threats, of course. We
keep a file, which I’d be happy to have copied for you if the firm clears it. But nothing stands out in this way. In this tragic way. Ms. Bastwick always said that if nobody threatened her or called her . . . unattractive names, she wasn’t doing her job. I must say, Lieutenant, Detective, you must often find yourself in that same position. The work you do creates enemies, particularly, one would think, if you do it well.”
“Can’t argue there.” Eve sat back. “Take me through it. When did you become concerned about Ms. Bastwick, and what did you do?”
“I became concerned, very concerned, this morning. I arrive at the offices at eightfifteen, routinely. This provides me time to check any messages, the daily schedule, prepare any necessary notes or documents for the morning appointments. Unless Ms. Bastwick is in court or has an early outside appointment, she arrives between eightthirty and eightforty. When I arrived this morning, there was a message from Misters Chance Warren and Zane Quirk. Ms. Bastwick had a dinner meeting with them last night, eight o’clock at Monique’s on Park. The message came in at nineohthree last evening. The clients were somewhat irritated that Ms. Bastwick hadn’t arrived.”
“They contacted the office—after hours?”
“Yes, exactly. In the message, Mr. Warren stated that they’d tried to reach Ms. Bastwick on her pocket ’link—the business number she’d given them as she does all clients. Failing to reach her, they tried the office, left a message.”
He paused, cleared his throat. “As this is not at all characteristic, I was concerned enough to try to contact Ms. Bastwick via ’link, but was only able to leave a voice mail, which I did on both of her numbers. I then contacted Mr. Warren, and discovered Ms. Bastwick had never arrived at the restaurant, and he and Mr. Quirk had dinner, remained there until after ten.”
When he paused, cleared his throat again, Peabody interrupted. “Can I get you some water, Mr. Haversham?”
“Oh, I don’t want to be any trouble.”
“It’s no trouble. We appreciate your cooperation,” she said as she rose.
“Very kind.” He brushed his finger over the knot of his tie. “I had expected Ms. Bastwick’s arrival
at eighttwenty this morning as, per her request, I had scheduled an early meeting at the offices. She didn’t arrive, and I rescheduled with the client, again tried her ’link. I confess, Lieutenant— Oh, thank you, Detective,” he said when Peabody brought him a tall glass of water. He sipped delicately, let out a long breath.
“As I was saying, I confess I was deeply concerned at this point. I worried Ms. Bastwick had taken ill or met with an accident. I made the decision to come here, in case she was ill and unable to reach the ’link. As I explained to the officer, I have her codes as I tend to her plants and other business whenever she’s out of town. When she didn’t answer the buzzer, I took it upon myself to use the codes and enter the apartment. I understand that might seem forward, an invasion of privacy, but I was genuinely worried.”
“It seems sensible to me.”
“Thank you.” He took another delicate sip. “I called out for her, and as I heard voices—I realized after a moment it was the entertainment screen in the bedroom—I called out again. Very concerned now as she didn’t respond, I went directly to her bedroom. I called out once again, in case she was indisposed, then I went to the door.”
“Was it open or closed?”
“Oh, open. I saw her immediately. I saw . . . I started in, somehow thinking I could help. Then I stopped myself, just before I reached the foot of the bed, as it was all too clear I could be of no help to her. I was very shaken. I … I might have shouted, I’m not sure. I got out my ’link. My hands trembled so I nearly dropped it. I contacted nineoneone. The operator, who was very calming and kind, I’d like to add, instructed me not to touch anything, and to wait for the police. I did touch the front door upon entering, and again when I admitted the officers. And I may have touched the doorjamb of the bedroom. I can’t quite remember.”
“I saw what was written on the wall. I couldn’t not see it. But I don’t understand it.”
“In the file of threats you have, do you remember any that involved me? Anyone threatening her in connection with the Jess Barrow matter?”
“I don’t. I came on after the Barrow case, though I’m familiar with it.”
“As a matter of procedure, can you tell us where you were last night, between five and eight P.M.?” “Oh my.” Now he took a deeper drink of water. “Well, yes, of course. I left the office at fiveohfive. My wife had plans to have dinner with her sister as it was my turn to host my chess club. Marion isn’t particularly interested in chess. I arrived home about fivetwenty, and began preparations for dinner. Marion left about fivefortyfive, to meet her sister for drinks, and the first of the club arrived at six, precisely. We had a light meal, and played until . . . I believe it was about ninethirty. The last of our club would have left just before ten, shortly after Marion returned home. There are eight of us. I can provide you with their names.”
“We’d appreciate that. It’s routine.”
“I understand. Ms. Bastwick was an exacting employer. I prefer that as I do my best when I have tasks and goals, and challenges. I believe we suited each other very well. I also understand some found her difficult. I did not.”
For the first time he looked away, his eyes moist. Eve said nothing as he visibly struggled to compose himself again.
“I’m sorry. I’m very distressed.”
“Take your time.”
“Yes, thank you. I didn’t find Ms. Bastwick difficult. Even if I had I would say what I say to you now. Anything I can do to assist you in finding who took her life, you have only to ask.”
“You’ve been really helpful,” Peabody told him. “Maybe you could give us a sense of how Ms. Bastwick got along with her partners, her colleagues, the people at your firm.”
“Oh, well, there would be some friction now and then, as you’d expect. A great deal of competition. But I will say she was valued, and respected. I . . . my own assistant has tried to contact me several times. The officer asked I not answer my ’link, so I’ve switched it off. But I should go back to the offices when it’s permitted. There are so many things that need to be done, need to be seen to.”
“Just one more thing,” Eve said. “Was she working on anything big right now, anything hot?”
“I suppose Misters Warren and Quirk would qualify. They are accused of embezzlement and fraud, from their own financial consulting firm. The matter will go to the courts next week. Ms. Bastwick was very confident she would get a notguilty verdict on all charges. She was a fierce litigator, as you know.”
“Yeah. Is there anyone we can contact for you, Mr. Haversham?”
“For me?” He looked blank for a moment. “No, no, but thank you. I’ll go back to the office, do what needs to be done.”
“We’d appreciate copies of those threats.”
“Yes, I’ll speak to Mr. Stern right away.”
“We can arrange for one of the officers to drive you back to the office,” Peabody offered.
“So kind. But it’s not far, and I believe I’d like to walk. I believe it would help if I could walk and sort through my thoughts.”
He rose as Eve did. “Her family. I just thought. She has parents and a sister. Her parents live in Palm Beach, and her sister . . .” He paused a moment, rubbed at his temple. “She lives with her family in East Washington. Should I contact them?”
“We’ll take care of it,” Eve told him. “If you think of anything else, let us know.”
“I will, of course. I want to ask, for my own peace of mind. Would it have been quick?”
“I think it would have.”
“I hope she didn’t suffer.”
While Peabody guided him out, Eve returned to the dressing room.
“He was sweet under the stuffy,” Peabody commented when she came in. “And I think he really liked her.”
“He’d be one,” Eve said. “She was a hardass, coldblooded and snotty with it. I don’t think she’ll have a long list of actual friends, but there’ll be plenty of acquaintances, clients, associates. There’s a safe here, as I figured. It doesn’t look like it’s been tampered with, but we’ll want EDD in here to get it open, check it out. We’ll want to talk to her insurance people, crosscheck valuables. Just cover the bets, Peabody, on the very slim chance the message is a herring.”
“A red herring?”
“Why are they red, and what the hell does that expression really mean anyway? It’s annoying.” Eve took a moment, pressed her fingers to her eyes.
YOUR TRUE AND LOYAL FRIEND.
The last words of the message played around and around in her head. She had to push them out. For now.
“Okay, this is going to be a freaking shitstorm. We need to do the family notifications right away as this is going to leak fast. We need to get the PA to cover us on getting copies of whatever we can get. The threats, her client list, case files. Her firm’s going to make the usual noises, and maybe louder than usual. The media’s going to start salivating as soon as this message crap gets out, and it will.”
“Who’d kill for you?” Peabody waited until Eve lowered her hands. “I mean who’d kill because somebody was rude to you, or, well, snotty?”
“Nobody leaps to mind. I tend to avoid relationships with the homicidal.”
“I don’t mean a specific name, Dallas. A type, a category even. Like someone you helped, someone you maybe saved from harm. Or someone close to someone you helped or saved. That’s a possibility. Someone who’s followed your career is another. A wannabe. You get a lot of media, Dallas, whether you like it or not. And it’s or not, I get that. But you get a lot of media. You’ve closed a lot of big cases.”
“Yeah, but I’m not married to the kickyourasssideways gorgeous Irish guy with more money than God. Who gets plenty of media, too. Add in all the buzz from the Icove case, Nadine’s book on it, the major success of the vid.”
“Fuck.” Frustrated, a little headachy, Eve shoved her fingers through her hair. “That’s going to hound me forever. But you’ve got some clear thinking here, and it’s the sort of direction we need to pursue. Someone who feels like they owe me, and twist. A wannabe who figures they’ll defend me by doing what I can’t. Kill off enemies, or someone perceived to be. Because screw it, Peabody, I haven’t given Bastwick a thought since Barrow lost his appeal, more than a year ago.”
She stepped back into the bedroom, read the message again. “She didn’t show me respect,” Eve murmured. “Let’s hope that’s not the thrust of the motive, because there’s a list that could circle the damn planet of people who haven’t shown me respect. I’m a goddamn cop. Her life was a lie; her death our truth. Our? Does he have a partner? Is he talking about me—him and me?”
“It follows a theme, doesn’t it? It’s for you, and for justice. Bastwick, criminal defense attorney, you the cop. Plus, somebody knows grammar and so on. The semicolon. How many killers do we know who’d use a semicolon?”
“Huh. That’s a point. Okay, we’re going to have to look at the cop, justice, disrespect deal, at the big, wide picture, but right now, let’s focus in on the vic, and why her, specifically. Highprofile, rich, attractive, with plenty of enemies.”
“Sounds like you,” Peabody said quietly. The concern that pressed on her chest showed in her dark eyes. “Maybe that’s another connection.”
“I’m not rich. Roarke’s rich, and I don’t deck myself out like she did every day.”
“You look good.”
“Gee, thanks, Peabody.”
“Look, you’re tall, skinny, got the cheekbones and the dent in the chin going. You look good, and you look good on camera. Tough, and okay, you come off as a cop even if you’re decked out for one of Roarke’s deals. Maybe it’s a guy with some lust going, and this is his way of, you know, wooing you.”
“Screw it again.” Because that idea made her a little bit sick. “Let’s review the discs instead of speculating. And let’s go ahead and call in the sweepers and the morgue.” Eve glanced back at the body. “She needs to be taken care of.”
“The killer?” Peabody jutted a chin toward the note before she picked up her coat. “He doesn’t get that. Doesn’t get that at all.”
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