Ceremony in Death Eve Dallas Series – Book 5 By J.D. Robb There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. -- Shakespeare ? We may not pay Satan reverence, for that would be indiscreet, but we can at least respect his
talents. -- Mark Twain
Death surrounded her. She faced it daily, dreamed of it nightly. Lived with it always. She knewits sounds, its scents, even its texture. She could look it in its dark and clever eye withouta flinch. Death was a tricky foe, she knew. One flinch, one blink, and it could shift, it couldchange. It could win.
Ten years as a cop hadn't hardened her toward it. A decade on the force hadn't made her acceptit. When she looked death in the eye, it was with the cold steel of the warrior.
Eve Dallas looked at death now. And she looked at one of her own.
Frank Wojinski had been a good cop, solid. Some would have said plodding. He'd been affable,she remembered. A man who hadn't complained about the bilge disguised as food at the NYPSDEatery, or the eye-searing paperwork the job generated. Or, Eve thought, about the fact thathe'd been sixty-two and had never made it past the rank of detective sergeant.
He'd been on the pudgy side and had let his hair gray and thin naturally. It was a rare thingin 2058 for a man to bypass body sculpting and enhancements. Now, in his clear-sided viewcasket with its single spray of mournful lilies, he resembled a peacefully sleeping monk froman earlier time.
He'd been born in an earlier time, Eve mused, coming into the world at the end of onemillennium and living his life in the next. He'd been through the Urban Wars, but hadn't talkedof them as so many of the older cops did. Frank hadn't been one for war stories, she recalled.He was more likely to pass around the latest snapshot or hologram of his children andgrandchildren.
He liked to tell bad jokes, talk sports, and had a weakness for soydogs with spiced picklerelish.
A family man, she thought, one who left behind great grief. Indeed, she could think of no onewho had known Frank Wojinski who hadn't loved him.
He had died with half his life still ahead of him, died alone, when the heart everyone hadthought so huge and so strong had just stopped.
Eve turned, laid a hand on the arm of the man who stepped up beside her. "I'm sorry, Feeney."
He shook his head, his droopy camel's eyes filled with misery. With one hand he raked throughhis wiry red hair. "On the job would have been easier. I could handle line of duty. But to juststop. To just check out in his easy chair watching arena ball on the screen. It's not right,Dallas. A man's not supposed to stop living at his age."
"I know." Not knowing what else to do, Eve draped an arm over his shoulder and steered himaway.
"He trained me. Looked after me when I was a rookie. Never let me down." Pain radiated throughhim and glinted dully in his eyes, wavered in his voice. "Frank never let anyone down in hislife."
"I know," she said again, because there was nothing else that could be said. She was accustomedto Feeney being tough and strong. The delicacy of his grief worried her.
She led him through the mourners. The viewing room was packed with cops as well as family. Andwhere there were cops and death, there was coffee. Or what passed for it at such places. Shepoured a cup, handed it to him.
"I can't get around it. I can't get a hold of it." He let out a long, uneven breath. He was asturdy, compact man who wore his grief as openly as he wore his rumpled coat. "I haven't talkedto Sally yet. My wife's with her. I just can't do it."
"It's all right. I haven't talked to her, either." Since she had nothing to do with her hands,Eve poured a cup for herself that she didn't intend to drink. "Everybody's shook up by this. I
didn't know he had a heart problem."
"Nobody did," Feeney said quietly. "Nobody knew."
She kept a hand on his shoulder as she scanned the overcrowded, over warm room. When a fellowofficer went down in the line of duty, cops could be angry, they could be focused, fix theirtarget. But when death snuck in and crooked a capricious finger, there was no one to blame. Andno one to punish.
It was helplessness she felt in the room and that she felt in herself. You couldn't raise yourweapon to fate, or your fist.
The funeral director, spiffy in his traditional black suit and as waxy-faced as one of his ownclients, worked the room with patting hands and sober eyes. Eve thought she'd rather have acorpse sit up and grin at her than listen to his platitudes.
"Why don't we go talk to the family together?"
It was hard for him, but Feeney nodded, set the untouched coffee aside. "He liked you, Dallas.'That kid's got balls of steel and a mind to match,' he used to tell me. He always said if hewas ever jammed, you'd be the one he'd want guarding his back."
It surprised and pleased her, and it simultaneously added to her sorrow. "I didn't realize hethought of me that way."
Feeney looked at her. She had an interesting face, not one he'd have called a heart-stopper,but it usually made a man look twice with its angles and sharp bones, the shallow dent in thechin. She had cop's eyes, intense and measuring, and he often forgot they were a dark goldenbrown. Her hair was the same shade, cut short and badly in need of some shaping. She was talland lean and tough-bodied.
He remembered it had been less than a month since he had come across her, battered andbloodied. But her weapon had been firm in her hand.
"He thought of you that way. So do I." While she blinked at him, Feeney squared his hunchedshoulders. "Let's talk to Sally and the kids."
They slipped through the crowd jammed together in a room oppressed with dark simulated wood,heavy red draperies, and the funereal smell of too many flowers crammed into too small a space.
Eve wondered why viewings of the dead were always accompanied by flowers and draping sheets ofred. What ancient ceremony did it spring from, and why did the human race continue to cling toit?
She was certain that when her time came, she wouldn't choose to be laid out for study by herloved ones and associates in an overheated room where the pervasive scent of flowers wasreminiscent of rot.
Then she saw Sally, supported by her children and her children's children, and realized suchrites were for the living. The dead were beyond caring.
"Ryan." Sally held out her hands -- small, almost fairy-like hands -- and lifted her cheek toFeeney's. She held there a moment, her eyes closed, her face pale and quiet.
She was a slim, soft-spoken woman who Eve had always thought of as delicate. Yet a cop's spousewho had survived the stress of the job for more than forty years had to have steel. Against herplain black dress she wore her husband's twenty-five-year NYPSD ring on a chain.
Another rite, Eve thought. Another symbol.
"I'm so glad you're here," Sally murmured.
"I'll miss him. We'll all miss him." Feeney patted her back awkwardly before drawing away.Grief was in his throat, choking him. Swallowing it only lodged it cold and heavy in his gut."You know if there's anything..."
"I know." Her lips curved slightly, and she gave his hand a quick and comforting squeeze beforeturning to Eve. "I appreciate you coming, Dallas."
"He was a good man. A solid cop."
"Yes, he was." Recognizing it as high tribute, Sally managed a smile. "He was proud to serveand protect. Commander Whitney and his wife are here, and Chief Tibble. And so many others."Her gaze drifted blindly around the room. "So many. He mattered, Frank mattered."
"Of course he did, Sally." Feeney shifted from foot to foot. "You, ah, know about theSurvivor's Fund."
She smiled again, patted his hand. "We're fine there. Don't worry. Dallas, I don't think youreally know my family. Lieutenant Dallas, my daughter Brenda."
Short, with rounded curves, Eve noted as they clasped hands. Dark hair and eyes, a bit heavy inthe chin. Took after her father.
"My son Curtis."
Slim, small boned, soft hands, eyes that were dry but dazed with grief.
There were five of them, the youngest a boy of about eight with a pug nose dashed withfreckles. He eyed Eve consideringly. "How come you've got your zapper on?"
Flustered, Eve tugged her jacket over her side arm. "I came straight from Cop Central. I didn'thave time to go home and change."
"Pete." Curtis shot Eve an apologetic wince. "Don't bother the lieutenant."
"If people concentrated more on their personal and spiritual powers, weapons would beunnecessary. I'm Alice."
A slim blonde in black stepped forward. She'd have been a stunner in any case, Eve mused, buthaving sprung from such basic stock, she was dazzling. Her eyes were a soft, dreamy blue, hermouth full and lush and unpainted. She wore her hair loose so that it rained straight andglossy over the shoulders of her flowing black dress. A thin silver chain fell to her waist. Atthe end of it was a black stone ringed in silver.
"Alice, you're such a zip head."
She flicked a cool glance over her shoulder toward a boy of about sixteen. But her hands keptfluttering back to the black stone, like elegant birds guarding a nest.
"My brother Jamie," she said in a silky voice. "He still thinks name-calling deserves areaction. My grandfather spoke of you, Lieutenant Dallas."
"Your husband isn't with you tonight?"
Eve arched a brow. Not just grief, she deduced, but nerves. It was easy enough to recognize.Signals as well, but they weren't clear. The girl was after something, she mused. But what?
"No, he's not." She shifted her gaze back to Sally. "He sends his sympathies, Mrs. Wojinski.He's off planet."
"It must take a great deal of concentration and energy," Alice interrupted, "to maintain arelationship with a man like Roarke while pursuing a demanding, difficult, even dangerouscareer. My grandfather used to say that once you had a grip on an investigation, you never letgo. Would you say that's accurate, Lieutenant?"
"If you let go, you lose. I don't like to lose." She held Alice's odd gaze for a moment, thenon impulse crouched down and whispered to Pete. "When I was a rookie, I saw your grandfatherzap a guy at ten yards. He was the best." She was rewarded with a quick grin before shestraightened. "He won't be forgotten, Mrs. Wojinski," she said, offering her hand. "And hemattered very much to all of us."
She started to step back, but Alice laid a hand on her arm, leaned close. The hand, Eve noted,trembled slightly. "It was interesting meeting you, Lieutenant. Thank you for coming."
Eve inclined her head and slipped back into the crowd. Casually, she reached a hand into thepocket of her jacket and fingered the thin slip of paper Alice had pushed inside.
It took her another thirty minutes to get away. She waited until she was outside and in hervehicle before she took the note out and read it.
Meet me tomorrow, midnight. Aquarian Club. TELL NO ONE. Your life is now at risk.
In lieu of a signature, there was a symbol, a dark line running in an expanding circle to forma sort of maze. Nearly as intrigued as she was annoyed, Eve stuffed the note back in her pocketand started home.
Because she was a cop, she saw the figure draped in black, hardly more than a shadow in theshadows. And because she was a cop, she knew he was watching her.
Whenever Roarke was away, Eve preferred to pretend the house was empty. Both she and Summerset,who served as Roarke's chief of staff, did their best to ignore the other's presence. The housewas huge, a labyrinth of rooms, which made it a simple matter to avoid one another.
She stepped into the wide foyer, tossed her scarred leather jacket over the carved newel postbecause she knew it would make Summerset grind his teeth. He detested having anything mar theelegance of the house. Particularly her.
She took the stairs, but rather than go to the master bedroom, she veered off to her officesuite.
If Roarke had to spend another night off planet as expected, she preferred to spend hers in herrelaxation chair rather than their bed.
She often dreamed badly when she dreamed alone.
Between the late paperwork and the viewing, she hadn't had time for a meal. Eve ordered up asandwich -- real Virginia ham on rye -- and coffee that jumped with genuine caffeine. When theAutoChef delivered, she inhaled the scents slowly, greedily. She took the first bite with hereyes closed to better enjoy the miracle.
There were definite advantages to being married to a man who could afford real meat instead ofits by-products and simulations.
To satisfy her curiosity, she went to her desk and engaged her computer. She swallowed ham,chased it with coffee. "All available data on subject Alice, surname unknown. Mother Brenda,nee Wojinski, maternal grandparents Frank and Sally Wojinski."
Eve drummed her fingers, took out the note and reread it while she polished off the quick meal.
Subject Alice Lingstrom. DOB June 10, 2040. First child and only daughter of Jan Lingstrom andBrenda Wojinski, divorced. Residence, 486 West Eighth Street, Apartment 48, New York City.Sibling, James Lingstrom, DOB March 22, 2042. Education, high school graduate, valedictorian.Two semesters of college: Harvard. Major, anthropology. Minor, mythology. Third semesterdeferred. Currently employed as clerk, Spirit Quest, 228 West Tenth Street, New York City.Marital status, single.
Eve ran her tongue around her teeth. "Criminal record?"
No criminal record.
"Sounds fairly normal," Eve murmured. "Data on Spirit Quest."
Spirit Quest. Wiccan shop and consultation center, owned by Isis Paige and Charles Forte. Threeyears in Tenth Street location. Annual gross income one hundred twenty-five thousand dollars.Licensed priestess, herbalist, and registered hypnotherapist on site.
"Wicca?" Eve leaned back with a snort. "Witch stuff? Jesus. What kind of scam is this?''
Wicca, recognized as both a religion and a craft, is an ancient, nature-based faith which --
"Stop." Eve blew out a breath. She wasn't looking for a definition of witchcraft, but anexplanation as to why a steady-as-a-rock cop ended up with a granddaughter who believed in
casting spells and magic crystals.
And why that granddaughter wanted a secret meeting.
The best way to find out, she decided, was to show up at the Aquarian Club in a bit overtwenty-four hours. She left the note on the desk. It would be easy to dismiss it, she thought,if it hadn't been written by a relative of a man she'd respected.
And if she hadn't seen that figure in the shadows. A figure she was sure hadn't wanted to beseen.
She walked to the adjoining bath and began to strip. It was too bad she couldn't take Maviswith her for the meet. Eve had a feeling the Aquarian Club would be right up her friend'salley. Eve kicked her jeans aside, leaned over to stretch out the kinks of a long day. Andwondered what she would do with the long night ahead.
She had nothing hot to work on. Her last homicide had been so open and shut that she and heraide had put it to bed in under eight hours. Maybe she'd spend a couple hours glazing outwatching some screen. Or she could pick a weapon out of Roarke's gun room and go down and run ahologram program to burn off excess energy until she could sleep.
She'd never tried one of his auto-assault rifles. It might be interesting to experience how acop took out an enemy during the early days of the Urban Wars.
She stepped into the shower. "Full jets, on pulse," she ordered. "Ninety-eight degrees."
She wished she had a murder to sink her teeth into. Something that would focus her mind anddrain her system. And damn it, that was pathetic. She was lonely, she realized. Desperate for adistraction, and he'd only been gone three days.
They both had their own lives, didn't they? They'd lived them before they met and continued tolive them after. The demands of both their businesses absorbed much time and attention. Theirrelationship worked -- and that continued to surprise her -- because they were both independentpeople.
Christ, she missed him outrageously. Disgusted with herself, she ducked her head under thespray and let it pound on her brain.
When hands slipped around her waist, then slid up to cup her breasts, she barely jolted. Buther heart leaped. She knew his touch, the feel of those long, slim fingers, the texture ofthose wide palms. She tipped her head back, inviting a mouth to the curve of her shoulder.
"Mmm. Summerset. You wild man."
Teeth nipped into flesh and made her chuckle. Thumbs brushed over her soapy nipples and madeher moan.
"I'm not going to fire him." Roarke trailed a hand down the center of her body.
"It was worth a shot. You're back..." His fingers dipped expertly inside her, slick andslippery, so that she arched, moaned, and came simultaneously. "Early," she finished on anexplosive breath. "God."
"I'd say I was just on time." He spun her around, and while she was shuddering and blinkingwater out of her eyes, he covered her mouth in a long, ravenous kiss.
He'd thought about her on the interminable flight home. Thought about this, just this: touchingand tasting and hearing that quick catch in her breath as he did. And here she was, naked andwet and already quivering for him.
He braced her in the corner, gripped her hips, and slowly lifted her off her feet. "Miss me?''
Her heart was thundering. He was inches away from driving into her, filling her, destroyingher. "Not really."
"Well, in that case..." He kissed her lightly on the chin. "I'll just let you finish yourshower in peace."
In a flash, she wrapped her legs around his waist, took a firm hold of his wet mane of hair."Try it, pal, and you're a dead man."
"In the interest of self-preservation then." To torture them both, he slipped into her slowly,watched her eyes go opaque. He closed his mouth over hers again so that her shallow breathsshuddered through him.
The ride was slow and slippery, and more tender than either had expected. Climax came on along, quiet sigh. Her lips curved against his. "Welcome home."
She could see him now, those stunning blue eyes, the face that was both saint and sinner, themouth of a doomed poet. His hair was streaming with water, black and sleek, just touching broadshoulders roped with subtle and surprisingly tough muscle.
Looking at him after these brief, periodic absences always made something unexpected lurchthrough her. She doubted she would ever get used to the fact that he not only wanted her butloved her.
She was smiling still as she combed her fingers through his thick, black hair. "Everything okaywith the Olympus Resort?"
"Adjustments, some delays. Nothing that can't be dealt with." The elaborate space stationresort and pleasure center would open on schedule, because he wouldn't accept any less.
He ordered the jets off, then took a towel to wrap around her when she would have used thedrying tube. "I began to understand why you stay in here while I'm away. I couldn't sleep inthe Presidential Suite." He took another towel, rubbed it over her hair. "It was too lonelywithout you."
She leaned against him a moment, just to feel the familiar lines of his body against hers."We're getting so damn sappy."
"I don't mind. We Irish are very sentimental."
It made her smirk as he turned to get robes. He might have had the music of Ireland in hisvoice, but she seriously doubted if any of his business friends or foes would consider Roarke asentimental man.
"No fresh bruises," he observed, helping her into her robe before she could do it for herself."I take that to mean you've had a quiet few days."
"Mostly. We had a john get a bit overenthusiastic with a licensed companion. Choked her todeath during sex." She belted the robe, scratched fingers through her hair to scatter morewater. "He got spooked and ran." She moved her shoulders as she stepped into the office. "Buthe lawyered up and turned himself in a few hours later. PA took it down to manslaughter. I letPeabody handle the interview and booking."
"Hmm." Roarke went to a recessed cabinet for wine, poured them both a glass. "It's been quietthen."
"Yeah. I had that viewing tonight."
His brow furrowed, then cleared. "Ah, yes, you told me. I'm sorry I couldn't make it home intime to go with you."
"Feeney's taking it really hard. It would be easier if Frank had gone down in the line ofduty."
This time Roarke's brow quirked. "You'd prefer that your associate had been killed rather than,say, go gently into that good night?"
"I'd just understand it better, that's all." She frowned into her wine. She didn't think itwise to tell Roarke she'd prefer a fast and violent death herself. "There is something odd,though. I met Frank's family. The oldest granddaughter's on the weird side."
"The way she talked, and the data I accessed on her after I got home."
Intrigued, he lifted his wine to sip. "You ran a make on her?"
"Just a quick check. Because she passed me this." Eve walked to the desk, picked up the note.
Roarke scanned it, considered. "Earth labyrinth."
"The symbol here. It's Celtic."
Shaking her head, Eve eased closer to look again. "You know the strangest things."
"Not so strange. I spring from the Celts, after all. The ancient labyrinth symbol is magicaland sacred."
"Well, it fits. She's into witchcraft or something. Got herself the start of a top-flighteducation. Harvard. But she drops out to work in some West Village shop that sells crystals andmagic herbs."
Roarke traced the symbol with a fingertip. He'd seen it before, and others like it. During hischildhood, the cults in Dublin had run the range between vicious gangs and pious pacifists.All, of course, had used religion as the excuse to kill. Or be killed.
"You have no idea why she wants to meet you?"
"None. I'd say she figures she read my aura or something. Mavis ran a mystic grift before Ibusted her for pinching wallets. She told me people will pay most anything if you tell themwhat they want to hear. More, if you tell them what they don't want to hear."
"Which is why cons and legitimate businesses are very much the same." He smiled at her. "I takeit you're going, anyway."
"Sure, I'll follow through."
Naturally she would. Roarke glanced at the note again, then set it aside. "I'm going with you."
"She wants -- "
"It's a pity what she wants." He sipped his wine, a man accustomed to getting precisely what hewanted. One way or another. "I'll stay out of your way, but I'm going. The Aquarian Club isbasically harmless, but there are always unsavory elements that leak through."
"Unsavory elements are my life," she said soberly, then cocked her head. "You don't, like, ownthe Aquarian, do you?"
"No." He smiled. "Would you like to?"
She laughed and took his hand. "Come on. Let's drink this in bed."
Relaxed by sex and wine, she fell peacefully asleep, draped around Roarke. That's why she wasbaffled to find herself suddenly and fully awake only two hours later. It hadn't been one ofher nightmares. There was no terror, no pain, no cold, clammy sweat.
Yet she had snapped awake, and her heart wasn't quite steady. She lay still, staring up throughthe wide sky window over the bed, listening to Roarke's quiet, steady breathing beside her.
She shifted, glanced down at the foot of the bed, and nearly yelped when eyes glowed out of thedark. Then she registered the weight over her ankles. Galahad, she thought and rolled her eyes.The cat had come in and jumped onto the bed. That's what had awakened her, she told herself.That's all it was.
She settled again, turned onto her side, and felt Roarke's arm slide around her in sleep. On asigh, she closed her eyes, snuggled companionably against him.
Just the cat, she thought sleepily.
But she would have sworn she'd heard chanting.
By the time Eve was elbow deep in paperwork the next morning, the odd wakefulness in the nightwas forgotten. New York seemed to be content to bask in the balmy days of early autumn andbehave itself. It seemed like a good time to take a few hours and organize her office.
Or rather to delegate Peabody to organize it.
"How can your files be this skewed?" Peabody demanded. Her earnest, square face expressed deepremorse and disappointment.
"I know where everything is," Eve told her. "I want you to put everything where I'll still knowwhere it is, but where it also makes sense for it to be. Too tough an assignment, Officer?"
"I can handle it." Peabody rolled her eyes behind Eve's back. "Sir."
"Fine. And don't roll your eyes at me. If things are a bit skewed, as you put it, it's becauseI've had a busy year. As we're in the last quarter of this one and I'm training you, it fallsto me to dump this on you." Eve turned and smiled thinly. "With the hope, Peabody, that youwill one day have an underling to dump shit assignments on."
"Your faith in me is touching, Dallas. Chokes me up." She hissed at the computer. "Or maybeit's the fact that you've got yellow sheets in here from five years ago that's choking me.These should have been downloaded to the main and cleared out of your unit after twenty-fourmonths."
"So download and clear now." Eve's smile widened as the machine hacked, then droned out awarning of system failure. "And good luck."
"Technology can be our friend. And like any friendship, it requires regular maintenance andunderstanding."
"I understand it fine." Eve stepped over, pounded her fist twice on the drive. The unithiccupped back into running mode. "See?"
"You have a real smooth touch, Lieutenant. That's why the guys in Maintenance shoot air dartsat your picture."
"Still? Christ, they hold a grudge." With a shrug, Eve sat on the corner of the desk. "What doyou know about witchcraft?''
"If you want to cast a spell on your machine here, Dallas, it's a little out of my field."Teeth clenched, she juggled and compressed files.
"You're a Free-Ager."
"Lapsed. Come on, come on, you can do it," she muttered at the computer. "Besides," she added."Free-Agers aren't Wiccans. They're both earth religions, and both are based on natural orders,but... son of a bitch, where'd it go?"
"What? Where did what go?"
"Nothing." Shoulders hunched, Peabody guarded the monitor. "Nothing. Don't worry, I'm on it.You probably didn't need those files, anyway."
"Is that a joke, Peabody?"
"You bet. Ha ha." A line of sweat dribbled down her back as she attacked the keys. "There.There it is. No problem, no problem at all. And off it goes into the main. Neat and tidy." Shelet out an enormous sigh. "Could I maybe have some coffee? Just to keep alert."
Eve shifted her gaze to the screen, saw nothing that looked ominous. Saying nothing, she roseand ordered coffee from the AutoChef.
"Why do you want to know about Wicca? You thinking of converting?" At Eve's bland look, Peabodytried a smile. "Another joke."
"You're full of them today. Just curious."