Read an Excerpt
“What a waste.”
Matthew Jackson went to where Walter Hatcher stood holding a framed eight-by-ten color photograph he’d pulled from a bookshelf. “She’s a knockout,” Hatcher said. “I wouldn’t have minded getting some of that myself.”
Jackson ignored Hatch’s comment—it wasn’t unexpected from the senior detective—and simply agreed that she was, indeed, beautiful.
The woman in the picture was posed the way photographers liked to shoot glamour girls of yesteryear, provocatively positioned on a white divan. She wore a bloodred kimono, left open enough to display plenty of leg and cleavage. Jackson tried to discern her lineage; probably Mediterranean a few generations back judging from her inky black hair and large, almond eyes. Her expression was inviting, slightly parted full crimson lips hinting at a mischievous smile, teasing whoever viewed the photograph.
Hatcher put the picture back on the shelf facedown and turned to look at the body sprawled in the center of the bedroom floor. “Looks like some john figured he didn’t get his money’s worth.”
“She’s a hooker?” Jackson said.
Hatcher looked at the young detective as though he’d mispronounced a simple word. “What do you figure she was, Jackson?” he asked. “Your mother decorate her bedroom like this?”
Jackson drew a breath. “Yeah, you’re right,” he said. He’d almost gotten used to his partner’s put-downs. Almost.
The room to which Hatch referred was a large bedroom on the second floor of an apartment in the Adams Morgan section of Washington. If a set designer had been charged with creating the quintessential bordello, he might have used the same approach. There was the requisite mirror on the ceiling over the king-sized bed, which was suspended by four gold chains. A few feet from it was a mirrored ball that, when rotated, caught the light from tiny red and blue pin-spots. The bedding was golden and silk-like. Animal-print rugs (leopards and zebras) and upholstery created a cross between Animal Planet and Vegas. Dimmers controlled the lights. A fully stocked minibar occupied one corner. Soft rock music that had been playing when the detectives arrived continued to sound from small speakers high up in the room’s four corners.
Whoever killed her hadn’t attempted to maintain the room’s décor. It was a mess. Bottles and glasses from the bar were strewn on the floor. The bedding was bunched up; one corner of the duvet was smeared with her blood. A red barrel chair had been overturned, as had a wrought-iron stand, its furry-leafed plant resting in the middle of a dark water stain on the carpeting.
She’d obviously put up the good fight.
The cops knew her name. The building’s super, who sat in the apartment’s living room with two other residents of the building, had provided it: Rosalie Curzon. She’d been a tenant for two years: “Always paid her rent on time,” the super had told the cops. “Nice lady.”
Hatcher called headquarters to run the name. Her history was brief. Ms. Curzon had twice been arrested for prostitution four years ago when she worked for one of D.C.’s myriad escort services. She’d paid a fine—or someone did—and she walked.
Matt Jackson turned his attention to the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves from which Hatch had lifted the photograph. The deceased’s reading selection was eclectic—leather-bound editions of classics, potboiler fiction, and a dozen erotic novels lined up next to six volumes on sexual practices. Jackson smiled as he read the spine of one in the latter grouping, Kosher Sex. He pulled it down, saw that it had been written by a rabbi, and returned it to its place on the shelf.
Sections were reserved for home decorating books, murder mysteries by big name authors, and for biographies of a variety of famous names in business, politics, the military, and religion.
“The well-read hooker, huh, Matt?” Hatcher said, joining his young colleague in perusing the books. His eyes eventually went to the top shelf, twelve inches below the crown molding that separated the wall from the ceiling, where ten videotape boxes stood nestled in slots provided by a blue, faux-leather slipcase designed for that purpose. They were too high up to reach. “Grab that desk chair,” Hatcher instructed. Jackson dragged it over, stood on it, and handed the slipcase down to Hatcher.
“Hey, wait a minute,” Jackson said, pointing to a small video camera that had been partially concealed by the tapes, its lens tilted down in the direction of the bed.
“Grab that, too,” Hatcher ordered.
Jackson gave the camera to Hatcher, jumped down from the chair, and joinedhim in reviewing what was written on the spines of the tapes.
Hatcher looked at Jackson and grinned. “Look’ee here,” he said, referring to the neatly handwritten notations on the videos. Each indicated a span between two dates, followed by initials.
“You don’t figure the lady was a movie producer, too, do you, Jackson?”
Jackson’s thought matched Hatcher’s. Had the deceased prostitute videotaped her trysts with paying customers? If so, was it possible that she’d captured her own murder on tape?
Hatcher’s laugh was a mirthless low rumble. “Maybe we got lucky.”
“It would be nice.”
“It would be better than nice. It would be a home run.”
“Two are missing,” Jackson offered, referring to empty slots in the slipcase that was designed to hold twelve tapes.
“Maybe business was slow,” Hatcher said. He opened the compartment of the camera and retrieved a tape. A quick examination showed that approximately half of it had been used.
They turned as the third member of their team, Mary Hall, entered, followed by crime scene techs and a D.C. medical examiner.
“Took you long enough,” Hatcher said to the young, prematurely balding ME in the white coat.
The ME ignored him and went directly to the body. One of the techs began making a video recording, circling the body to capture it from a variety of angles.
“What do we know?” the ME asked Jackson.
“One of her neighbors called nine-one-one, said she heard noises from the apartment. She got hold of the super and he used his key to get in.”
“How long ago?”
“We got the call forty-five minutes ago.”
The ME knelt next to the victim and leaned close to examine the injuries to the back of her head, and to the one side of her face that was visible. “This is the way you found her?” he asked no one in particular.
“If you mean did anybody move the body,” Hatcher said, “the answer is no.”
The ME moved to the other side of the deceased.
“Somebody beat her up pretty good,” Jackson said to Mary Hall, who’d come to his side.
“And strangled her,” said the ME, pointing to bruising on her neck. He stood and surveyed the room’s disorder. “She didn’t go down easily.”
“Where are the super and the other tenants?” Hatcher asked Hall.
“In the living room.”
“You get statements from them?”
“And you leave them alone in there to get their formal stories straight?”
“Get back in there!”
Jackson avoided Hall’s exasperated look as she left the room.
“The nine-one-one call came in at ten thirty-seven,” Jackson said. “Somebody in the building said she heard noises in here, like a fight. That pins down time-of-death.”
“She’s warm but starting to cool,” said the ME. “It didn’t just happen. I’d say two, two-and-a-half hours ago.”
“Maybe the lady waited a while to make the call. Go ask her, Jackson.”
Jackson returned minutes later. “You were right, Hatch,” he said. “She says she heard the fight going on around seven, seven-fifteen, but her husband didn’t want to get involved.”
“So what made her change her mind at ten-thirty-seven?”
“She says she knew she’d never get to sleep without doing something.”
“Her husband with her?”
“Tell Mary to take them back to their apartment to get their statements.” He called over one of the crime scene techs who’d started to mark blood spatter on the carpet with small tent cards. “Where’s your evidence bag?” he asked.
The tech went to where he’d dropped it on a chair and brought it to Hatcher. The veteran detective led Jackson to a corner where they wouldn’t be overheard. He placed the camera, the tape it contained, and the ten marked videos into the bag and handed it to Jackson. “Take this back to headquarters and wait for me there. Don’t let it out of your sight. Understand? You show it to nobody until I get there.”
“You don’t want me to log it in?”
“You catch on quick, Jackson. Go on, move.”
Hatcher went to the living room, where Mary Hall was about to escort the husband and wife back to their apartment. He waited until they were gone before addressing the only other person in the room, the building’s superintendent, a beefy Hispanic man with pockmarked cheeks and a tic in his left eye.
“Tell me about the lady in there,” Hatcher said, nodding toward the bedroom.
“Miss Curzon? What about her?” His English was good.
“How long has she been here?”
“Must be two years now.”
“She sign a lease?”
“Sí. Everybody does.”
“Don’t sí me, José. You’re in America, so speak American. English.”
The super’s expression mirrored his confusion, and fear.
“How much she pay you on the side?”
He stared blankly at the detective.
“Come on, José, don’t give me that dumb look. You knew she was turning tricks. She’s a puta, right? A whore. How much she pay you to look the other way?”
“Oh, no, no, sir, you are wrong. I do not care what the tenants do as long as they don’t bother nobody else. I say live and let live.” He forced a smile in the hope it would indicate sincerity.
“How much every month? A couple of bills? Five?”
“I told you that—”
Hatcher closed the gap between them, his face now inches from the super’s. “You’re lying to me, scumbag. That’s a crime, pal. I’m going to look into every corner of your life, and when I come up with what I know I’ll find, you’re going to be dead meat. Tax fraud. Obstructing justice. Lying to a cop. In the meantime, we’ll go to MPD and have a nice, long chat.”
“You stay in this room until I’m through in there. You hear me?”
The super nodded.