About the Author
Johnny Heller has earned multiple Earphones Awards from AudioFile magazine, including one for Closing Time by Joe Queenan, and has earned two Audie Awards and many more nominations. Named one of the Top Fifty Narrators of the Twentieth Century by AudioFile, he has recorded over five hundred titles.
Read an Excerpt
By RICHARD CASTLE
HYPERIONCopyright © 2010 ABC Studios All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was always the same for her when she arrived to meet the body. After she unbuckled her seat belt, after she pulled a stick pen from the rubber band on the sun visor, after her long fingers brushed her hip to feel the comfort of her service piece, what she always did was pause. Not long. Just the length of a slow deep breath. That's all it took for her to remember the one thing she will never forget. Another body waited. She drew the breath. And when she could feel the raw edges of the hole that had been blown in her life, Detective Nikki Heat was ready. She opened the car door and went to work.
The wallop of one hundred degrees almost shoved her back in the car. New York was a furnace, and the soft pavement on West 77th gave under her feet like she was walking on wet sand. Heat could have made it easier on herself by parking closer, but this was another of her rituals: the walk up. Every crime scene was a flavor of chaos, and these two hundred feet afforded the detective her only chance to fill the clean slate with her own impressions.
Thanks to the afternoon swelter, the sidewalk was nearly empty. The neighborhood lunch rush was over, and tourists were either across the street cooling in the American Museum of Natural History or seeking refuge in Starbucks over iced drinks ending in vowels. Her disdain for the coffee drinkers dissolved into a mental note to get one herself on the way back to the precinct. Ahead she clocked a doorman at the apartment building just her side of the barrier tape that encircled the sidewalk café. His hat was off and he was sitting on the worn marble steps with his head between his knees. She looked up at the hunter green canopy as she passed him and read the building name: The Guilford.
Did she know the uniform flashing her the smile? She rapid-fired a slideshow of faces but stopped when she realized he was just checking her out. Detective Heat smiled back and parted her linen blazer to give him something else to fantasize about. His face rearranged itself when he saw the shield on her waistband. The young cop lifted the yellow tape for her to duck under, and when she came up she caught him giving her a sex-ray again, so she couldn't resist. "Make you a deal," she said. "I'll watch my ass, you watch the crowd."
Detective Nikki Heat entered her crime scene past the vacant hostess podium of the sidewalk café. All the tables at La Chaleur Belle were empty except one where Detective Raley of her squad sat with a distraught family with sunburned faces struggling to translate German into a statement. Their uneaten lunch swarmed with flies. Sparrows, avid outdoor diners themselves, perched on seat backs and made bold dives for pommes frites. At the service door Detective Ochoa looked up from his notebook and quick-nodded her while he questioned a busboy in a white apron flecked with blood. The rest of the serving staff was inside at the bar having a drink after what they had witnessed. Heat looked over to where the medical examiner knelt and couldn't blame them one bit.
"Male unknown, no wallet, no identification, preliminary age range sixty to sixty-five. Severe blunt force trauma to head, neck, and chest." Lauren Parry's gloved hand peeled back the sheet for her friend Nikki to have a look at the corpse on the sidewalk. The detective glanced and quickly looked away. "No face, so we'll comb the area for any dental; otherwise not much to ID from after that impact. Is this where he landed?"
"There." The M.E. indicated the café busing station a few feet away. It had caved in from the top so hard it was split in half. The violent splash of ice and blood had already baked into the sidewalk in the minutes since the fall. As Heat stepped over there, she noted that the café umbrellas and the stone walls of the building also wore dried blood, ice spatter, and bits of tissue. She got as close to the wreckage as she dared without contaminating the scene and looked straight up.
"It's raining men."
Nikki Heat didn't even turn. She just sighed his name. "Rook."
"Hallelujah." He held onto his smile until she finally looked at him, shaking her head. "What? It's OK, I don't think he can hear me."
She wondered what sort of karma payback it was for her to be saddled with this guy. It wasn't the first time that month she had wondered it, either. The job was hard enough if you were doing it right. Add a reporter with a mouth playing make-believe cop and your day just got a little longer. She backed up to the long flower boxes that defined the perimeter of the outdoor café and looked up again. Rook moved with her. "I would have been here sooner except somebody didn't call me. If I hadn't phoned Ochoa, I would have missed this."
"It's just tragedy upon tragedy, isn't it?"
"You wound me with your sarcasm. Look, I can't research my article on New York's finest without access, and my deal with the commissioner specifically states-"
"Trust me, I know your deal. I've been living day and night. You get to observe on all my homicides just like real-life detectives who work for a living."
"So you forgot. I accept your apology."
"I didn't forget, and I didn't hear any apology. At least not from me."
"I kind of inferred it. You radiate subtext."
"Someday you're going to tell me what favor you did for the mayor to get this ride-along pushed through."
"Sorry, Detective Heat, I'm a reporter and that's strictly off the record."
"Did you kill a story that made him look bad?"
"Yes. God, you make me feel cheap. But you'll get nothing more."
Detective Ochoa wrapped his busboy interview and Heat beckoned him over. "I passed a doorman for this building who looked like he was having a very bad day. Go check him out, see if he knows our Doe."
When she turned back, Rook had curled his hands to form skin binoculars and was sighting up the building overlooking the café. "I call the balcony on six."
"When you write your magazine article, you can make it any floor you like, Mr. Rook. Isn't that what you reporters do, speculate?" Before he could reply, she held her forefinger to his lips. "But we're not celebrity journalists here. We're just the police, and darn it, we have these pesky things called facts to dig up and events to verify. And while I try to do my job, would it be too much to ask that you maintain a little decorum?"
"Sure. No problem."
"Jameson? Jameson Rook?!" Rook and Heat turned to see a young woman behind the police line waving and jumping up and down for his attention. "Oh my God, it's him, it's Jameson Rook!" Rook gave her a smile and a wave, which only made his fan more excited. Then she ducked under the yellow tape.
"Hey, no, get back!" Detective Heat signaled to a pair of uniforms, but the woman in the halter and cutoffs was already inside the line and approaching Rook. "This is a crime scene, you have to go."
"Can I at least get an autograph?"
Heat weighed expediency. The last time she tried to chase off one of his fans, it had involved ten minutes of arguing and an hour writing up an answer to the woman's official complaint. Literate fans are the worst. She nodded to the uniforms and they waited.
"I saw you on The View yesterday morning. Oh my God, you're even cuter in person." She clawed through her straw bag but kept her eyes on him. "After the show I ran out and bought the magazine so I could read your story, see?" She pulled out the latest issue of First Press. The cover shot was Rook and Bono at a relief center in Africa. "Oh! I have a Sharpie."
"Perfect." He took the marker and reached for her magazine.
"No, sign this!" She took a step closer and tugged aside the cup of her halter.
Rook smiled. "I think I'm going to need more ink."
The woman exploded with laughter and clutched Nikki Heat's arm. "See? This is why he's my favorite writer."
But Heat was focused on the front steps of the Guilford, where Detective Ochoa clapped a sympathetic hand on the shoulder of the doorman. He left the shade of the canopy, did a limbo under the tape, and crossed to her. "Doorman says our vic lived in this building. Sixth floor."
Nikki heard Rook clear his throat behind her but didn't turn. He was either gloating or signing a groupie's breast. She wasn't in the mood to see either one.
An hour later in the solemn hush of the victim's apartment, Detective Heat, the embodiment of sympathetic patience, sat in an antique tapestry chair across from his wife and their seven-year-old son. A blue reporter's-cut spiral notebook rested closed on her lap. Her naturally erect dancer's posture and the drape of her hand on the carved wooden armrest gave her a look of regal ease. When she caught Rook staring at her from across the room, he turned away and studied the Jackson Pollock on the wall in front of him. She reflected on how much the paint splatters echoed the busboy's apron downstairs, and though she tried to stop it, her cop's brain began streaming its capture video of the mangled busing station, the slack faces of traumatized waitstaff, and the coroner's van departing with the body of real estate mogul Matthew Starr.
Heat wondered if Starr was a jumper. The economy, or, more accurately, the lack of it, had triggered scores of collateral tragedies. On any given day, the country seemed one turn of a hotel maid's key away from discovering the next suicide or murder-suicide of a CEO or tycoon. Was ego an antidote? As New York real estate developers went, Matthew Starr didn't write the book on ego, but he sure did the term paper. A perennial also-ran in the race to slap his name on the outside of everything with a roof, you had to credit Starr with at least staying in the chase.
And by the looks of his digs, he had been weathering the storm lavishly on two luxury floors of a landmark building just off Central Park West. Every furnishing was either antique or designer; the living room was a grand salon two stories high, and its walls were covered up to the cathedral ceiling by collectible art. Safe bet nobody left take-out menus or locksmith brochures at this front door.
A trace of muffled laughter turned Nikki Heat's attention to the balcony where Detectives Raley and Ochoa, a duo affectionately condensed to "Roach," were working. Kimberly Starr rocked her son in a long hug and didn't seem to hear it. Heat excused herself and crossed the room, gliding in and out of ponds of light beaming down from the upper windows, casting an aura on her. She sidestepped the forensics tech dusting the French doors and went out onto the balcony, flipping her notebook to a blank page.
"Pretend we're going over notes." Raley and Ochoa exchanged confused looks then drew closer to her. "I could hear you two laughing in there."
"Oh, jeez ...," said Ochoa. He winced and the sweat bead clinging to the tip of his nose fell onto her page.
"Listen to me. I know to you this is just another crime scene, right? But for that family in there, it's the only one they've ever experienced. Are you hearing me? Good." She half turned to the door and turned back. "Oh. And when we get out of here? I want to hear that joke. I could use it."
When Heat came back in, the nanny was ushering Kimberly's son out of the room. "Take Matty outside for a while, Agda. But not out front. Do you hear me? Not out front." She pulled another tissue and dabbed her nose.
Agda stopped in the archway. "It is so hot in the park today for him." The Scandinavian nanny was a looker and could have been Kimberly's coed sister. A comparison that made Heat ponder the age disparity between Kimberly Starr, who she ballparked at twenty-eight, and her dead husband, a man in his mid-sixties. Can you say Trophy Wife, boys and girls?
Matty's solution was the movies. The new Pixar film was out, and even though he'd seen it on its first day, he wanted to go again. Nikki made a note to take her niece to it on the weekend. That little girl loved animated movies. Almost as much as Nikki. Nothing like a niece to provide the perfect excuse to spend two hours enjoying pure innocence. Matty Starr left with an unsure wave, sensing something amiss but so far spared the news that would descend upon the little boy soon enough.
"Once again, Mrs. Starr, I'm sorry for your loss."
"Thank you, Detective." Her voice came from a far place. She sat primly, smoothing the pleats of her sundress and then waited, immobile except for the tissue she absently twisted on her lap.
"I know this isn't the best time, but there are some questions I'm going to need to ask."
"I understand." Again, the waif voice, measured, remote, and what else? Heat wondered. Yes, proper.
Heat uncapped her pen. "Were you or your son here when it happened?"
"No, thank God. We were out." The detective made a short note and folded her hands. Kimberly waited, rolling a chunk of black onyx from her David Yurman necklace, then filled the silence. "We went to Dino-Bites over on Amsterdam. We had frozen tar pit soup. It's just melted chocolate ice cream with Gummysaurs. Matty loves the tar pit soup."
Rook sat down on the toile Chippendale wing chair opposite Heat. "Do you know if anyone else was home?"
"No, I don't think so." She seemed to see him for the first time. "Have we met? You look familiar."
Heat jumped in to close that flank, and fast. "Mr. Rook is a journalist. A magazine writer working with us in an unofficial capacity. Very unofficial."
"A reporter ... You're not going to do a story about my husband, are you?"
"No. Not specifically. I'm just doing background research on this squad."
"Good. Because my husband wouldn't like that. He thought all reporters were assholes."
Nikki Heat said she understood completely, but she was looking at Rook when she said it. And then she continued, "Did you notice any changes in your husband's mood or behavior recently?"
"Matt did not kill himself, don't even go there." Her demure, preppy composure vaporized in a flare of anger.
"Mrs. Starr, we just want to cover all-"
"Don't! My husband loved me and our son. He loved life. He was building a mixed-use low-rise with green technology, for God's sake." Beads of perspiration sprouted under her side-swept bangs. "Why are you asking stupid questions when you could be looking for his killer?"
Detective Heat let her vent. She had been through enough of these to know that the composed ones had the most rage to siphon off. Or was she just recalling herself back when she was the one in The Loss Chair, nineteen years old with her world suddenly imploding around her? Had she really siphoned off all her rage, or merely clamped a lid on it?
"It's summer, damn it, we should be in the Hamptons. This wouldn't have happened if we were at Stormfall." Now, that's money. You don't just buy an estate in East Hampton, you name it. Stormfall was beachfront, secluded, and Seinfeld-adjacent with a partial Spielberg view. "I hate this city," Kimberly shouted. "Hate it, hate it. What is this, like, murder number three hundred so far this year? As if they even matter to you people after a while." She panted, apparently finished. Heat closed her notebook and circled around the coffee table to sit beside her on the sofa.
"Please hear me. I know how difficult this is."
"No, you don't."
"I'm afraid I do." She waited for the meaning of that to sink in on Kimberly, then continued. "Murders are not numbers to me. A person died. A loved one. Someone you thought you were eating dinner with tonight is gone. A little boy has lost his father. Someone is responsible. And you have my promise I will see your case through."
Mollified or maybe just shock-worn, Kimberly nodded and asked if they could finish this later. "Right now I just want to go to my boy."
She left them in the apartment to continue their investigation. After she left, Rook said, "I always wondered where all those Martha Stewarts came from. They must breed them on a secret farm in Connecticut."
"Thank you for not interrupting while she was spewing."
Rook shrugged. "I'd like to say that was sensitivity, but it was really because of the chair. It's hard for a man to sound authoritative surrounded by toile. OK, now that she's gone, can I tell you I get a vibe off her I don't like?"
Excerpted from HEAT WAVE by RICHARD CASTLE Copyright © 2010 by ABC Studios. Excerpted by permission.
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"Heat Wave looks like another bestseller for the thrillmaster. It's hot!" -James Patterson, New York Times bestselling author