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 часть  #9 серии  J P Beaumont

 

Payment in kind jpb-9
 


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Payment in kind jpb-9


  Payment in kind

  ( J P Beaumont - 9 )

  J. A. Jance

  J. A. Jance

  Payment in kind

  Chapter 1

  The first thing I noticed that morning was the quiet, the deathly quiet. And then I noticed I was cold. For the first time since Karen divorced me, leaving me in sole possession of the covers and taking her perpetually frigid feet elsewhere, I woke up with cold feet, and not just feet, either.

  It took a while to figure out that what was missing was the comforting rumble of the building’s heat pumps on the roof outside my penthouse apartment. It was not quite sunrise on a wintry early January morning, and those warmth-giving pumps were definitely off. Had been for some time. My bedroom was freezing.

  I put in an irate call to the manager, who confirmed what I already knew. The heat pumps had “gone on the blink.” For some unaccountable reason, the heat pumps in Belltown Terrace, a luxury high-rise condominium in downtown Seattle, are built to function fine in temperatures all the way down to fourteen degrees Fahrenheit. Down to, but not below.

  So when the thermometer hit a record-breaking six degrees above zero sometime during the late night hours of January second, Belltown Terrace’s overworked heat pumps kicked off entirely. By the time I woke up several hours later, the thermometer in my apartment read a chilly forty-five.

  Leaving the manager to summon the proper repairmen, I headed for the warmest spot in my house-the two-person hot tub in the master bathroom. I turned on the air jets and climbed into the steaming water, fully prepared to stay there for as long as necessary.

  I lay in the tub with my eyes closed and my head resting comfortably against one of the upholstered cushions. Reveling in luxurious warmth, I was jarred from my torpor by a jangling telephone in the chilled bedroom behind me. Weeks earlier, Ralph Ames, my gadget-minded attorney in Arizona, had hinted broadly that I might want to consider buying myself a cordless phone, but I hadn’t taken his advice. Now I wished I had.

  “Smart ass,” I grumbled for Ralph’s benefit as I threw myself out of the steamy tub, grabbed a towel, and dashed for my old-fashioned and very much stationary phone.

  If my caller had been Ralph Ames, I would’ve had to tell him his suggestion had a lot of merit, but it wasn’t Ames at all. Instead, the person on the phone was Sergeant Watkins, my immediate supervisor from Homicide at the Seattle Police Department. When Watty calls me at home, it usually means trouble, but surprisingly, he didn’t launch into it right away.

  “How’s it going?” he asked with uncharacteristic indirectness.

  “Colder ‘an a witch’s tit,” I answered tersely. “Our heat pumps went off overnight. I’m standing here dripping wet.”

  “Your heat pumps went off?” he echoed with a laugh. “What’s the matter? Did one of you fat cats forget to pay the bill down at City Light?”

  Sergeant Watkins doesn’t usually beat around the bush discussing the weather. “Cut the comedy, Watty,” I snapped. “I’m freezing my ass off while you’re cracking jokes. Get to the point.”

  “I’ve got a case for you, Beau. Initial reports say we’ve got two stiffs on Lower Queen Anne Hill. We’ve got some people on the scene, but no detectives so far. You’re it.”

  “Where?”

  “In the Seattle school district office. Know where that is?”

  I was already groping in my dresser drawer for socks and underwear. “Not exactly, but I can find it,” I returned.

  “The streets outside are a damned skating rink,” Watty continued. “It might be faster if you go there directly from home instead of coming into the office first.”

  During the call I had managed to blot myself dry with the towel. Now I held the phone away from my ear long enough to pull a T-shirt on over my head. I returned the phone to my ear just in time to hear Watty continue.

  “Do that. Detective Kramer’ll meet you there as soon as he can. The guys in the garage are trying to find another set of chains. One broke just as he was starting up the ramp.”

  “Kramer?” I asked, hoping I had heard him wrong. “Did you say Detective Kramer? What about Big Al?”

  I can get along all right with most of the people in Seattle P.D., but Detective Paul Kramer is the one notable exception. When it comes to my list of least favorite people, Kramer is right up there at the top-just under Maxwell Cole, the lead crime columnist for our local news-rag, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

  “I thought someone would have let you know,” Watty returned. “He and Molly both came down with a bad case of food poisoning after a Daughters of Norway dinner Saturday night. They ended up in the Ballard Hospital emergency room along with fifteen or twenty other people. He’s still in no shape to come back to work. And Kramer’s partner called in sick as well.”

  “So we’re stuck with each other?”

  “For the time being.”

  Having to work a case with Detective Kramer was a bad way to start a new week and an even worse way to start a new year. If I were superstitious, I might have seen it as an omen.

  “Swell,” I grumbled. With that, I hung up on Watty and dialed the concierge, making sure someone was working on the heat pump problem and asking her to call for a cab while I finished dressing.

  People in the Pacific Northwest are used to clouds and rain in winter. That kind of weather is expected and comes with the territory. Arctic cold isn’t, and nobody here knows what to do when it comes. I put on an extra sweater over my shirt before adding the shoulder holster for my new 9-mm Beretta automatic. My old faithful. 38 Smith amp; Wesson was still gathering dust in some evidence room in Prescott, Arizona.

  With a wool tweed sport coat over both sweater and automatic, I rummaged around my apartment until I located the fur-lined leather gloves and gaudy muffler my kids had sent me for Christmas several years earlier. Fortunately I wasn’t working undercover, because that muffler is anything but unobtrusive.

  By the time I raced downstairs and into the clear bitter cold, a green Farwest cab with white smoke billowing from its exhaust system and chains on its worn rear tires was stopped in the passenger loadzone in front of the building. I was glad I wasn’t driving. In my experience, cab companies don’t mess around with chains until well after it’s absolutely necessary.

  “The school district office,” I said as I climbed inside. “South slope of Lower Queen Anne. Just off Mercer Street.”

  The cab driver obviously didn’t need an exact address. With a nod, he slipped the car into gear and we crunched away from the sidewalk.

  City crews had been working through the night to clear main arterials of the seven or eight inches of snow that had fallen Sunday afternoon and evening. The snowstorm had been followed by a frigid cold front that had swept down out of Alaska, bringing with it record-breaking lows. The main thoroughfares, some of which had been cleared of snow earlier, were now glazed over by a thick layer of ice. The taxi rumbled along like a slow-moving tank.

  If you live in Chicago or upstate New York, seven or eight inches of snow followed by treacherous ice is no big deal because those cities are flat. Seattle isn’t. Steep glacial ridges create streets that resemble roller coasters under the best of circumstances. Combined with ice and snow, the city’s rough terrain becomes a bumper-car disaster.

  At the first hint of snow, many Seattlites head home at once and stay there for the duration. It beats crashing and burning your car on some ice-bound street. Stores quickly sell out of the essentials-milk, bread, and videos. With four inches on the ground, the city comes to a stand-still. That morning’s eight inches was double that. Except for my solitary cab, Second Avenue all the way down to the central core was entirely deserted.

  “Understand they let all the kids
out of school today,” the driver said conversationally as he turned off Second onto Cedar and made his way across an equally deserted Denny Way. “But I guess the grown-ups ain’t that lucky. Right?”

  “Right,” I said briskly, leaving intact his erroneous conclusion that I was some kind of school district bureaucrat. The driver, in his late thirties, was prematurely potbellied and friendly. He negotiated the steep, icy streets with the kind of casual aplomb born only of years of experience.

  “What the hell’s going on?” he asked when we were stopped cold on Mercer by a scatter of emergency vehicles parked helter-skelter on the icy street. A parking enforcement officer, huddled in her curtained cart, motioned firmly for him to move on.

  “Just let me out,” I told him, passing my fare across the seat. “I can make it from here on foot.”

  Before the cabbie could give me my change, an impatient horn blared loudly behind us. “Hold your horses, fella,” the driver muttered under his breath while he deliberately counted out my change.

  When the horn sounded again, I looked around. The driver of a medical examiner’s van was waving for us to move aside. Shaking her head with annoyance, the parking enforcement officer stepped out of her cart and was headed in my direction by the time I climbed out of the cab. Once on the slick pavement, I lost my footing and almost slid under the cab before catching myself on the door handle.

  The driver of the van honked furiously a third time, but the cabbie studiously ignored him. It was a practiced pretense.

  “Take care, fella,” he said to me, acknowledging my generous tip with a partial salute. “And if you need a ride home after work, be sure to give a call. I’m pulling a double shift today.”

  He paused long enough to carefully place the money in his wallet before finally, deliberately, moving out of the van’s way. He slid away from the curb just as the parking enforcement officer pounced on me.

  “I’m sorry, sir, but this is a crime scene. You’ll have to move along. We’re not allowing anyone beyond this point.”

  I flashed my badge in her direction. She mumbled something and retreated, scuttling hurriedly back toward the welcome warmth of her plastic-enclosed cart. My slick-soled leather dress shoes filled with snow as I slipped and slid over to the sidewalk and up the hill, where, despite the steep grade, ice-crusted snow made for somewhat less hazardous footing.

  Out in the street, I could see the tracks where some crazy urban winter athlete had taken advantage of the incline for a little early morning skiing. Shaking my head in wonder, I kept on walking.

  The unimposing two-story building that houses the administrative offices of the Seattle Public School District on Fourth Avenue North sits on the flank of Lower Queen Anne Hill, near an invisible boundary where the city’s commercial zoning gives way to residential. Its construction of Roman brick and great expanses of glass may have been wonderfully modern years ago when the complex was built, but now, with a skeleton of dead pyracantha clinging stubbornly to its walls, it looked like a frumpy, aging dowager.

  I had reached the front door and was in the process of shoving it open when Dr. Howard Baker strode past me. The white-haired head of King County’s medical examiner’s office shouldered me out of the way and lumbered into the building without any kind of acknowledgment. Doc Baker’s personal presence at the crime scene suggested that whatever had happened was probably something out of the ordinary.

  Inside, although a number of uniformed police officers were scattered throughout the granite-floored reception area, the room was deathly quiet except for the occasional uncontrolled sobbing of a young woman who huddled in the far corner of the room with a Medic One attendant kneeling solicitously beside her. Doc Baker’s wide-backed frame filled the doorway of what appeared to be a janitorial closet just to the left of the front door.

  As I stepped closer, I could smell the unmistakable odors of industrial-strength cleaners, polishes, and disinfectants. But underneath those innocuous smells was a hint of something else-the sharply acrid aroma of burnt gunpowder and the far uglier coppery stench of blood. Death was present in that closet as surely as mops and brooms.

  I moved close enough to Baker’s broad backside so I could peer over his shoulder. At first all I could see was a woman’s bare leg extending into the room from the closet. From the position, it looked as though the closet door had been closed with her leg pressing against it. When the door had been opened by some unsuspecting person, the leg had sprung out into the room and slammed down to the floor like a grisly horror-movie jack-in-the-box.

  She wore a maroon full skirt of some heavy, wool-like material and a matching long-sleeved turtleneck. The skirt was hiked up around her waist. She wasn’t wearing any panties. Graceful but lifeless fingers almost touched a. 38 Special that lay on the white tiled floor a few inches inside the doorway.

  Baker knelt down to examine the gun. That’s when I saw the other leg, a man’s leg, underneath the woman’s. I moved to a slightly different angle to get a better look. Other than a pair of socks whose elastic had gone to seed, the man too was naked from the waist down. He was wearing a shirt, however, one that made me think of our own at S.P.D. Then I saw the blue striping and breathed a sigh of relief. A blue shoulder patch identified it as belonging to Seattle Security Service, one of the largest security guard companies in the city.

  Baker got up quickly, nearly knocking me over in the process, and glared around the room, searching for someone. He seemed surprised to find me standing directly behind him.

  “Hello there, Detective Beaumont. Have you seen that damn photographer? She was supposed to be here a long time ago.”

  “Haven’t seen her,” I answered. “I’ve only been here a few minutes myself.”

  Shaking his head, Baker headed for the outside door, while I took his place in the doorway of the murky, dimly lighted closet.

  I stepped closer and warily examined the dead man’s face. Years before, I too had spent some time working for Seattle Security, moonlighting to earn a little extra money when the kids were young and my meager paycheck never stretched quite far enough. Further investigation might still identify the dead man as another financially strapped police officer, but for now I was relieved that his face wasn’t one I immediately recognized. The name tag pinned to his breast pocket said, “A. Chambers.” That didn’t ring any bells either.

  In death, A. Chambers sat with his back propped against a deep janitor’s sink. His slack-jawed chin hung down, resting on an ample chest. A huge brown stain had spread across his lower chest and belly. Blood had pooled on the floor around and beneath him. I’ve seen enough murder scenes to know that A. Chambers had bled to death.

  I turned my attention back to the woman who lay in a tangle of fallen brooms and mops, staring sightlessly at Chambers from across the small, evil-smelling closet. The almost delicate hole in her chin was in direct contrast to the spattered gore on the wall and mop handles behind her. The condition of her body had all the earmarks of a self-inflicted wound.

  If the woman was a suicide, she was one of the selfish kind-unhappy people who aren’t content to go out alone. They always insist on taking one or two others along with them, the more the merrier.

  That being the case, she had taken far more care with the placement of her own bullet than she had with his. The woman had died quickly, probably painlessly, while A. Chambers’ lifeblood had slowly ebbed away.

  Repulsed by the woman’s strikingly calm face, which belied the shattered mess behind it, I looked down at the floor where the two sets of naked legs, one wearing pitifully sagging socks, lay both open and entwined together like those of a pair of abandoned rag dolls left behind by some forgetful child.

  Baker came hurrying back with the photographer firmly in tow. Unceremoniously he shoved me aside. I let him do it without protest. I went over to a window and stood looking out at the snow-shrouded city below me. It was a glistening, blinding white-beautiful, peaceful, and serene. That pristine beauty seemed total
ly at odds with the terrible darkness that had exploded during the night and left two people dead in that gory closet behind me.

  Who is dead, and why, are the fundamental questions at the bottom of every homicide investigation. What terrible passions and connections drive human beings to kill others and then turn the murder weapons on themselves? I know from firsthand experience that the answers to those questions, once we unravel them, wreak havoc among the living long after the dead are buried and decaying in the ground.

  For some unaccountable reason, as I stood looking out at the glistening city, the lyrics from that old Ethel Merman song came bubbling into my head. It’s from Annie Get Your Gun, I think, and the words say something to the effect that you can’t get a man with a gun.

  You can, actually, but if you do it with a. 38 Special, what’s left over won’t be good for much of anything.

  Chapter 2

  Seasoned old-timers on the homicide squad know all too well that there is a time to approach Doc Baker and there is a time to leave him alone. As he talked to his assistants, I heard him mention that he believed the man had been shot in the reception area and then dragged into the closet, where he subsequently died. I looked at the shiny granite floor. Someone had taken the time to clean it very, very thoroughly.

  As the irascible medical examiner bustled around the crime scene that bitterly cold morning, rumbling orders at the hapless woman photographer whose misfortune it was to draw this particular assignment, I knew enough to keep a very low profile. Detective Paul Kramer didn’t. Relatively new to Homicide and already saddled with a reputation as a headstrong go-getter, he showed up late and immediately started rocking the boat.

  Pausing barely long enough to stomp the layer of crusted snow off his shoes, Kramer, bullnecked and bullheaded as ever, charged up behind Doc Baker with his feet still wet. The medical examiner was still totally involved in working one-on-one with the police photographer.

 
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