Woman of Particular Desires - Excerpt

by Deidre Warren

Chapter 1

The row of Federal townhouses along Vandam Street glistens in the sun. All except the building surrounded by the small fleet of NYPD and emergency services vehicles. That one, as if in the thrall of some twisted spell, sits in a shadow cast by the dark tower, created by Donald Trump but hated by residents, preservationists, traditionalists, and just about everyone else in Manhattan. Dr. Severn Tobias is forced to park his car at the end of the block on Sixth Avenue.

Tobias, a short balding man in his late fifties dressed in drab glen plaid with a suede vest and bow tie, steps from his car, brushes back his gray handlebar mustache, grabs his medical bag and heads for the house. Just inside the building he stops, registers the absence of an elevator, sighs and begins the three-story trudge to the crime scene.

Above him, two EMS Techs remove a noose from the nude body of a young auburn haired woman and lower it to the floor. Crime scene investigators scour the apartment, searching for something that might indicate more than the obvious cause of death. Lingering in the doorway to the kitchen, a pair of detectives stand, comparing notes, as the panting Dr. Tobias staggers into the loft.

One of the detectives, Brad Hassler, thirty-five, rugged and hard edged, with a traditional two day growth, turns his gaze from the dangling noose, spies Tobias and nods a greeting. Hassler’s partner, Rudy Zamos, a year or two younger, four inches shorter, powerfully built and much more retiring, watches silently.

"You’re late, Sevy." Hassler smiles as Tobias kneels next to the body.

"Yeah," the older man replies. "I had nothing to do but sit and wait for your call." He touches the woman’s cheek. "More than six hours, less than twenty," he murmurs.

Hassler stares down at him.

"Suicide?"

Tobias shrugs.

"Can I write it up?" Zamos asks, approaching, pad at the ready.

"I just walked in the door," Tobias complains, removing the tools of his trade and laying them out next to the body.

"We got no ID," Hassler chides. "How the hell you gonna write it up?"

"Jane Doe," Zamos replies.

"Make a fucking effort." Hassler’s face reveals his displeasure. "I mean before we throw her in Potter’s Field."

"I’m not ... " Zamos starts.

"Go talk to the super," Hassler cuts him off.

"Uniforms talked to him. He never saw her before."

"Not her place?"

"Uh uh." Zamos checks his notes in a small black pad. "Tenant’s somebody named Alice Goodall. Actress. Super says she’s working on a cruise boat. She told him somebody’d come in to water the plants. That’s all he knows."

"Anybody find anything, looks like it might be hers?" Hassler calls out. One of the crime scene cops holds up an evening purse.

"Found this next to the couch," the cop says, extending the purse. Zamos takes it, and starts to go through the contents. He extracts each object and places it on an end table.

"Nothing interesting," he murmurs as he looks at the items but Hassler is now examining them as well. He picks up a compact.

"This is nothing?" he exclaims snidely.

"What?" Zamos steps to him.

"This!" He holds up the open compact revealing a photo of two women in the cover. One is the victim, six or seven years younger; the other is an attractive girl about the same age.

"Hey, Sevy." he exclaims. "Take a look at this."

"I’m trying to get you out of here today," Tobias complains, ignoring the request. Hassler crosses the room to the kneeling medical examiner.

"I know," he says appreciatively, pointing to the other woman in the picture, "but doesn’t she look familiar?"

Tobias glances briefly at the picture and nods his head.

"Of course," he says. "Why shouldn’t she?"

"It’s a question, Sevy," Hassler moans, annoyed. "Can we not be Talmudic about it?"

Tobias gives him a long, pitying look.

"She did that story on EMS last year," he explains as to a child. "She interviewed us in front of that building on a hundred and seventh after the shoot-out."

"Ah, yeah." Hassler remembers. "What the hell was her name?"

"Something Irish," Tobias offers.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, McCoy, McArdle ... "

"McCray. Carla McCray," Tobias corrects him.

"Right!" Hassler remembers, No, not Carla ... Cassandra, Cassandra McCray."

"Writes for the Voice," Tobias offers."

"No. Results." Hassler comes back. "I saw something by her in Results." He turns to Zamos. "Get hold of her. Have her meet us at the morgue in two hours."

***

Only a few blocks away, Cassandra McCray is slamming her hand down on the desk of an unimpressed Bob Villamores.

"That’s absolute bullshit," she rages. "There’s nothing wrong with it."

Bob Villamores, mid forties, trim, beginning to lose his hair but still attractive, looks up at her and shrugs.

"As far as it goes, " he proclaims, pushing the paper back across his desk.

Bob is the editor in chief of Results. He’s smart, easy to get along with, charming when he’s not being infuriating and definitely someone she would consider for a weekend in Bermuda.

Unfortunately he’s never shown any interest in Bermuda and she’s never given him any reason to show an interest in her.

They are in the Results office, a place so typical as to be almost a cliché. A rundown mix of old wooden and gray steel desks fill the main section of the fourth floor of the late Victorian warehouse building on Clarkson St. just off Hudson. In front facing the elevators is the reception area; separated from the rest of the space by waist high, steel office dividers. Running along one side of the space are four glass walled offices, one of which they now occupy.

"It goes all the way," she continues furiously. "It tells how much was allocated to research; it lists every vote of the senate; it identifies the key players and names the ones that caused each vote to fail. It even comes with an index showing how each senator voted. It’s solid."

She has barely finished the sentence when the door behind her opens and Jeffrey Clark slips into the room. Jeffrey is in his mid-thirties, a slender and very southern reporter who thinks of himself as the second coming of Truman Capote. He crosses to Bob’s desk and drops a folder onto it.

"Pay no attention," he grins realizing that he has stepped into a situation. "I’m not here."

"You read this?" Villamores asks, holding up her story.

"I did," Jeffrey admits cautiously.

"What’s wrong with it?" the editor demands.

"This is where you get the solutions, speech," Jeffrey informs Cass in a stage whisper.

"There is no solution," she explodes. "There’s a problem. I’m trying to give it some light ... "

"There’s always a solution." Villamores stares at her, shaking his head in disdain. "Find it. That’s the difference between us and everybody else. They find problems, we solve them."

Jeffrey applauds politely.

"Bra-vo!" he murmurs. "Vince Lombardi would be so proud. "

"What the hell would you know about Vince Lombardi," Villamores scowls but she cuts him off.

"So you hate the piece," she states defiantly.

"No way," he corrects her. "It’s good, very good but you’re supposed to be good. I hired you cause you’re good. Now I want great."

"This," Jeffrey whispers to her, "is where we grab our computers and dash into the copy room."

"You." Bob points to Jeffrey. "Out!"

The phone on his desk rings. He picks it up. "What?" He hands the phone to her. "It’s for you."

***

It’s an hour later. Cass is leaning against the fender of an unmarked patrol car trying to compose herself, warily checking her shoes to see if they have been ruined by the sick wave that erupted from her on seeing the body of her old roommate. Movement catches her eyes and she looks up to see Hassler and Zamos emerging from the building. Hassler moves easily toward her, concern showing on his rugged features.

He stops next to her, hands her a handkerchief.

"Sorry," she murmurs. "Just couldn’t catch my breath."

"It happens, "he shrugs. "You did know her."

She nods.

"What’s her name?"

"Gwen." She runs a trembling hand over her forehead. "Gwendolyn Amory."

"Family?"

"A sister, Hallie, in Connecticut and a mother here, on the East Side."

"You got numbers?" Zamos asks, notebook out and ready.

"I’ll call Hallie," she ventures.

"Bad Idea,

"I know," she agrees. "So was coming here."

***

The bar is all about old darkened wood, beer smells and multiple TV sets, all tuned to various sporting events. It sits a block from City Hall and has forever been a hangout for cops, lawyers, reporters on the crime beat and a small number of Wall Street Yuppies looking for atmosphere. Cass enters, searches out a stool at the quiet end of the bar, settles onto it and extracts her phone from her purse.

***

It’s a terminally quaint crafts shop in revival-chic Connecticut. The shelves overflow with cutely carved soaps and hand dipped candles, the bins with hand knit scarves, caps and sweaters. Laura Ashley stereotype, Hallie Amory Dillon is answering the phone. Hallie is tall and willowy, her formerly auburn hair, expensively streaked in blending shades of blonde and tan. She is expecting to hear from a customer who she knows will be placing a multiple order for some of her lovely, if exorbitantly priced, hand crocheted Irish wool sweaters but after Cass identifies herself, she holds her breath.

"Sit down Hallie," Cass instructs her, having already given up on finding a good way to do this. "I have some very bad news."

***

Cass puts the phone back in her purse, raises her hand to attract the bartender and spies, at the end of the bar, a familiar face brutalizing a huge pastrami sandwich. She rises, moves down the bar to a stool next to him, cheeks up onto it and grins, as the juice runs down his chin and onto his already stained suit.

Severn Tobias turns, alerted by her interest, recognizes her, but is incapacitated by the enormous mouthful of bread and meat he is trying to chew and swallow.

"Dr. Tobias ... hi."

He tries to answer, still thwarted by the dripping mouthful. He stops, points to his jaw. She nods in understanding, again flashes her smile.

"Eat here a lot?" she asks.

He nods, points the question back to her.

"Not usually," she replies. "I was supposed to meet someone, but that was before ... "

He swallows, nods.

"I couldn’t reach him," she continues, "so I came over just in case. ­Did you finish with the ... uh ... ,”

"Interesting case," he manages to get out, now that the breathing channels have been cleared. "Some very," he hesitates, seeming to gather his thoughts before continuing, "unusual circumstances."

"Like what?"

"You roomed with her in college?" he asks. She nods. "Close friends?"

"Then," she shrugs, leaving the rest unsaid.

"No more?" he nudges.

"Different crowds," she explains.

"She had some powerful friends," Tobias comments. And all of a sudden he has her attention.

"What kind of friends?" she asks. He shrugs. "Come on," she cajoles, beginning to get intrigued. He smiles and makes a helpless gesture.

"I really don’t know," he says, "but there has been pressure."

"Why would her suicide interest anyone but the family?"

Again he shrugs.

"It was, a suicide, wasn’t it?" She’s smiling very hard now; using it all.

"Sure," he replies, his tone far from convincing.

"No chance of anything else?" she asks, leaning into him confidentially, doing everything but opening a couple of buttons on her blouse.

"Oh, uh, no I don’t think so."

"Then why?"

He regards her for a long moment, seeming to decide whether or not to go down this road with a reporter. Then ...

"Off the record."

She nods.

"Her stepfather’s a diplomat isn’t he?"

"Yes."

"That’s probably it. I mean it could get embarrassing."

Now he’s really got her interest.

"What could?"

Again he stops to consider the road he is about to go down.

She remembers how friendly he’d been the first time they’d met when she’d interviewed him with Hassler.

His eyes drift from hers to her hair, her neckline and back to her eyes.

"How old are you?" he asks.

"Over twenty-one," she replies defiantly.

"Have you ever heard of autoerotic asphyxia?"

"You think ... " she asks, more than a little surprised.

"We found an electric dildo on the floor." Tobias explains, no longer comfortable with the conversation. "The switch was on, the batteries were dead and it was coated with vaginal fluid. We also found traces of the same fluid on her thighs."

She stares at him with a mixture of shock and denial.

"I know," he agrees with a philosophical shrug. "Not terribly flattering for a diplomat’s daughter."

"Jesus!" she gasps, her mind racing back to the days when they shared a dorm room.

"There was also the manner in which she was dressed," Tobias continues. "Or rather undressed."

"You mean she was naked?" she ventures.

"Not quite," he replies. "She was wearing thigh length black boots."

She stares at him for a long moment calculating the meaning of what he has said.

"Like she was dressed for someone."

He nods.

"But you don’t think she was murdered?"

"Strange, isn’t it," he shakes his head, marveling at the absurdity of the situation. "We’d almost rather that she’d met some horrible end instead of going out in ecstasy. Just so nobody’s embarrassed."

"Is that a no?" she asks.

"We work on probability," he explains. "There was no sign of violence, no marks on the body. If someone were going to hang her they’d probably have had to tie her first. Her neck was not broken so when she hung she’d struggle. There’d be ligature marks on her wrists or wherever there’d been rope."

"No marks?"

"No marks, no ropes. Clothes piled up nice and neat. It was probably an accident but given the circumstances I think suicide reads better."

As they speak she catches sight of Ben Walton; tall, even featured, dressed in a dark business suit and power tie entering the bar and surveying the room. She waves. He moves through the crowd to her and they exchange a brief kiss. She introduces him to Tobias and they move to another table.

Tobias watches them leave and settle in. She notices him still looking at them even after they are seated. She wonders if he was comfortable in his decision to bring her into the situation of Gwen’s death. She watches as he motions for the check, pays it and leaves the room, glancing back at her as he goes through the door.

***

It’s a while later. The suburban crowd has left to make their trains and she is listening to Ben explain his latest deal with less than all abiding interest.

" ... so we agreed to cross collateralize but Brighton had to come in with at least twenty percent and they ... "

She’s wondering why she’s not in love with him. He’s drop dead handsome, a serious earner and doesn’t eye every cute butt that walks through the bar. What more does she want? More important though, why is it that she’s never had an orgasm with him?

It finally dawns on him that she’s someplace else.

"Hey! I thought you wanted to hear about this."

She breaks from her reverie, embarrassed at being discovered to be less than interested.

"I’m ... I’m sorry ... I ... "

"It's okay," he smiles, "I have a better idea."

***

Actually it wasn’t. Basketball images flicker across a giant flat screen TV. Ben lies in his bed, naked, hands comfortably locked behind his head, staring at the action. She comes out of the bathroom also naked and crosses to the chair that sits across from the bed, picks up her panties and slips into them. She knew where she would end up this evening so she made sure she wore the sexy ones. What a waste.

"Jesus!" he exclaims, turning from the game and staring at her breasts as she straightens and starts to fit her bra in place. "You are so fucking beautiful."

She stops; regards first the man, and then the TV, which has shifted to an annoying commercial. "Sorry you missed the first quarter," she says, trying to keep the sarcasm out of her voice as she slips into the skirt.

He glances up at her as she zips the skirt and reaches for her blouse.

"You leaving?"

"I wouldn’t want you to miss the end." She begins to button the blouse.

"Hey," he smiles up at her. "It can’t always be great."

"I’ll settle for sometimes," she murmurs to herself, slipping on her shoes and reaching for her purse.

"Don’t worry about it," he calls after her. "Next time we’ll make the earth move."

She steps in to the hallway, stops and leans back into the room.

"I’d settle for the bed," she says, flashing a brittle smile, turning into the hall and closing the door behind her.

She stands in the street, searching for a cab, wondering if it was his failure or hers. Her lack of interest hadn’t been the result of his rush to climax. But why wasn’t she interested? He was a gorgeous creature. The first time she saw him naked, she almost came. Almost but not quite. Never quite.