Authors: Ginger Simpson
A Novel Murder
Books We Love Ltd.
Copyright 2013 by Ginger Simpson
Cover art by Michelle Lee 2013
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
The smell of decomposition hung heavy in the air of the small bedroom—a nauseating odor that defied description. A homicide detective in Philadelphia for nearly five years, Michelle Wallace still found dealing with death unsettling. She clutched a tissue to her nose to help block the stench. Nerves beneath her skin shuddered as she surveyed the posed body of the deceased. On the queen-sized bed, a naked woman in her late twenties or early thirties lay with arms crossed over her breasts, her blue eyes fixed in a permanent stare toward the ceiling. Her mouth, lips painted bright red, twisted in what was probably her last attempt to scream. The piece of rope embedded around her throat left ligature marks on her otherwise flawless skin.
The room hummed with activity while uniformed officers with gloved hands went through drawers and the closets. No one dared touch the body until the medical examiner arrived. Michelle didn’t need confirmation. She already knew. In an unbidden vision, she’d seen the bits and pieces unfold. The occurrences weren’t frequent or regular, and when young, she’d tried to seek an explanation from her mother but got only a dismissive wave and words uttered about an overactive imagination.
Shell’s gaze shifted to the nightstand, noticing the novel next to the lamp, titled
The Perfect Crime
. Would there be ramifications if her fellow officers knew she authored the book. Her pseudonym, consisting of her initials and her mother’s maiden name, kept her writing persona separate from her professional side. Although proud of her work, she dared not brag. The guys would never let her live down the fact she’d used facts from past cases to pattern her storylines. Only Mom and her best friend, Naomi, knew about Michelle’s fiction passion and they’d been sworn to secrecy. No book signings or personal appearances would be scheduled until she wrote that breakthrough novel, earning her rights as an author and enabling her to leave the force.
Her attention flipped back to the hectic scene transpiring around her, especially the three officers ogling the shapely corpse. Shooting them an icy glare, she motioned them away. “Geez, move it along, you guys.”
She rolled her eyes, disgusted at the lengths some men went to for a glimpse of a bared breast—even on a dead woman.
Finishing his conversation with the building super in the hallway, Michelle’s partner, Tony Rizetti, strode inside. He eyed the body, his brow raised. “How long you think she‘s been dead, Meesh?”
God, she hated his nickname for her. Why couldn’t he call her Shell like everyone else? So many times she’d asked, but the sparkle in his eyes when he defied her showed his stubborn side.
Already certain of her answer, she shrugged. “Three, maybe four days—but that’s just a guess.”
The lie about the time rolled off her tongue as smooth as butter. She turned and eyed the body, knowing for sure that exactly three days ago the woman had been brutally attacked and murdered.
Tony checked his notes on a small pad he carried in his pocket. He flicked to another page. “Her name’s Cara Austin. Neighbors on this floor called the super and complained about a strange stench. When he got no answer to his knocks or phone calls, he used his master key and found her just like this.”
He flipped his notebook closed and stashed it in his breast pocket. “So, Meesh, I guess whether or not our victim was sexually assaulted will determine if this is our case.” As junior detective, Tony always turned to her for guidance. “Is there anything I should be doing until…?”
Michelle met his inquisitive gaze. At least he was asking now, instead of striking out on his own as he had in the beginning—and usually creating a mess she had to fix. “Did you ask the superintendent if he noticed any strange visitors coming or going from this apartment?”
Tony hung his head. “No.”
“Then go back and talk to him again. Find out how long she’s lived here…if he has a phone number for her next of kin—anything that can jumpstart the investigation for whoever takes it on. We’ve got to cover those bases whether it’s a sex crime or not.”
Tony gazed at the corpse. “I’ll bet you anything sexual activity took place. Why else would she be naked?”
He popped the gum he chewed.
Impatience jolted her last nerve. “If asking a few more questions is too tough for you, I’ll take care of it. Believe it or not, lots of people sleep in the nude. I do.”
The hair on the back of her neck bristled as she stared at the dead woman. Of course, the vic hadn’t been sexually assaulted. Along with the talent to write novels, Michelle’s ability to “see” things allowed her to view images she’d rather not. Always the victim but never the culprit. Just sketchy details and she didn’t know why. She’d known about this particular murder even before anyone even called it in. What was never revealed was the “when, where, why or whodunit,” but she had visualized the brutal demise of a shapely woman with blonde hair—the very same color of the long tresses splayed across the bed pillow.
“So you really sleep in the buff?” Tony interrupted her thoughts. “Good to know.”
He dropped one eyelid in a wink and flashed a crooked smile.
Her cheeks heated. Why in the world had she admitted something so personal to someone she’d worked with for only a month?
Ever since he’d been assigned as her new partner, she’d struggled to ignore his chocolate brown eyes and handsome face. There were times she thought she detected a shared interest, but the department maintained a firm rule about co-workers keeping relationships focused strictly on business. Her jaw tensed. She drew her admiring stare from him. “Never mind. Get your ass downstairs and find out everything you can about our dead little miss here.”
Thankfully, her concern over the case kept her from ogling her hunky partner.
Taking out her impatience on him was the perfect cover to hide her attraction.
Michelle flipped through the stack of papers on her desk. With the first murder she’d envisioned months ago turned over to another precinct and solved, she saw no connection with her current case. As far as Cara Austin’s death, nothing in recent police reports indicated similarities to any other pending cases. Shell had no theory, but had kept silent about the first homicide until official notification came through. She wasn’t ready to become a freak show on national television. No one ever believed in mediums or people who claimed to see visions, even she didn’t until she was old enough to understand her clairvoyant experiences. Why she began to bear mental witness to assault crimes, she had no clue, especially since she never saw the perpetrator. Thankfully, this had been Shell’s first vision in months…since a middle-aged woman died from a gunshot wound to the heart. That murder had been credited to a disgruntled husband.
Hiding her face in her hands while resting her elbows on her desk, Michelle wrestled with thoughts about the strange powers she possessed.
Or did they control her?
Hailing from Arizona, she and her parents moved east when her father garnered a promotion to police lieutenant. Sadly, he passed from a heart attack two years later, and as his only child, she’d followed in his legal footsteps although writing was in her blood as much as the law. Her talent for penning stories made landing a contract with a local publisher fairly easy. The fact that the characters who spoke to her were murder victims wasn’t her fault.
“Meesh, you gotta headache?” Tony appeared through the squad room double doors waving a paper in the air.
She straightened and then flipped her hair out of her eyes leaving his question unanswered.
“No evidence of sexual activity.” Tony validated what she already knew, crossed the room and sat at his desk, which faced hers. “In fact, according to her neighbors, she led a very quiet life. I guess finding the perp is up to us, after all.”
pounding from too many overtime hours, she rubbed the bridge of her nose. “I’m not surprised.”
His obvious excitement percolated his drive, and he thrummed his fingers on the desktop. “I thought for sure we could pass on this one, but guess not. You called it, baby.”
He leaned forward and cocked his head. “What made you so all-fired sure she hadn’t been violated?”
Michelle shrugged. Play it like the pro you know you are, she chided herself. “I can’t explain it…just a gut feeling and experience. The crime scene was too pristine…the killer spent too much time posing the body—a sure sign of remorse. Most times, the victim is raped, beaten or repeatedly stabbed. Blood spatter and condition of the body immediately screams anger or retribution. None of that was present in Cara’s apartment.”
“So, are you ready to tackle our case?” He rocked his desk chair back and forth.
“I suppose so.”
She closed the “Austin” folder on her desk. “Did the crime scene yield any prints?”
“No, everything was wiped clean. The lab is checking out the twine or whatever the killer used to choke her, but their conclusions probably won’t be all that helpful.”
She pushed back from the desk and stood. “Any little bit of information helps. While we wait for the completed report let’s go back to the vic’s apartment and do a little piecing together of our own.”
* * *
The superintendent, a frown winkling his jowls, unlocked the apartment and then moved aside as Michelle batted away the yellow crime scene tape. Before she had a chance to step inside, fingers bit into her shoulder. She jerked around and turned an icy stare on the small-statured man “What…?”
“Yeah….” Tony stepped forward and peered down his nose. “Keep your hands to yourself, Bernie.”
Deeper ruts furrowed the super’s already craggy brow. His flushed cheeks puffed out with a mock smile. “Sorry, but I need to know how much longer you cops plan to be poking around here?
Every day this apartment goes without a tenant, I lose money.”
Michelle’s mouth gaped. “
your biggest worry? A young woman in the prime of her life was murdered in your building, and all you can think about is money?” She shook her head and pointed down the corridor. “Get out of my sight before I order the whole place locked down until we find out exactly what happened.”
The plump, ugly little man scurried away without another word.
“Can you really do that?” Tony’s brow arched.
She stepped inside, Tony following close behind.
“Shut down the entire building?”
She smiled over her shoulder. “Probably not, but he doesn’t know that.”
Tony laughed. “Well, you sure scared the crap out of him.
Did you see how fast he moved?”
She sighed. “I wish it was that easy to take care of all pests.” She paused for a moment and then cocked her head toward her partner. “Bernie?”
“Yeah, his name is Bernard Goldman.”
Michelle moved to the bed, noting the indention in the pillow upon which the victim had breathed her last breath. Haunting visions of the woman’s face while struggling with her attacker crept into Shell’s head. How the poor woman’s neck veins bulged as her very last gasp of air was denied her—the twisted agony shadowed the sky blue eyes that once sparkled. A shudder crept along Michelle’s spine. Why was the message delivered to her so incomplete? Why show her what was happening as the crime unfolded and never give details of how the information was supposed to help her save anyone if she couldn’t get there beforehand? All her visions did were taunt her and point out how helpless she really was.