Authors: Warren Adler
BOOKS BY WARREN ADLER
Banquet Before Dawn
Death of a Washington Madame
The Casanova Embrace
The Children of the Roses
The David Embrace
The Henderson Equation
The Housewife Blues
The War of the Roses
We Are Holding the President
Jackson Hole, Uneasy Eden
Never Too Late For Love
New York Echoes
New York Echoes 2
The Sunset Gang
The Ties That Bind
The Witch of Watergate
by Warren Adler.
All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced
in any form without permission. This novel is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places, incidents are either the product
of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
For Lissa and Jonathan
Fiona's heels sank into the soft earth as she moved across
the marsh to the edge of the creek. Her thin raincoat offered little comfort
against the persistent drizzle that threw a gloomy chill over the gray morning.
She heard Cates's shoes making squishing sounds as he followed close behind her
toward the two policemen in shiny slickers. Above her loomed the great brownish
arches of the Calvert Street Bridge, recently renamed the Duke Ellington Bridge, over which stretched a symmetrical string of lighted globes.
The body rested precariously on the creek's rim against a
rocky outcrop that kept it from slipping into the rushing water.
The early April rain had churned up the ground, stripping
away the last vestiges of winter and releasing the earth's pungent odors. After
being with Clinton, everything seemed good again--colors deeper, odors richer,
sounds clearer. He had crept beside her earlier than usual this morning, but
she was instantly awake at his touch. She still tingled with the afterglow of
having been with him.
Now, beneath the bridge, she slipped and fell on the damp
soil, her nostrils tickled by the manurey smell.
"You okay?" Cates asked, offering his hand. She
grabbed it, allowing him to lift her. Struggling upward, she felt a tear in her
raincoat, covered now with a coat of mud. Her pantyhose had been ripped along
the knees. One thing about being a cop, she thought. It was hard as hell on
She let Cates go ahead of her now, guiding the way along
the slippery ground to where the body had landed. As they arrived, the
policemen pointed their flashlight beams on the sprawled lifeless heap that was
once a young woman. They kneeled beside her, studying the body in the play of
light. She was blonde, mid-twenties, Fiona guessed.
"Makes a mess," one of the policemen muttered as
Fiona touched the body, lifting an arm. It wriggled, then, when released, fell
like a length of heavy rope. On impact, a jumper became crushed bones in a
blubbery bag of bruised flesh. Fiona sniffed as her nostrils picked up the
body's odor, the stench of death strong enough to mask any natural competition.
One of the policemen handed her an alligator purse.
"I didn't open it," he said. She wondered briefly
if he had rifled the wallet. The woman's driver license identified her as
Dorothy Curtis, born December 8, 1958. The shock of similarity made her wince.
Fiona was also born on December 8, six years earlier. The photo on the license
showed a remarkably pretty woman. Fiona bent down again to confirm her
identity. Except for the mouth, set irrevocably in a tight-lipped smile, it
wasn't easy. The body had hit face first.
Cates stood nearby writing in his notebook. The sound of
sirens pierced the air until an ambulance pulled up, not far from where they'd
parked. A pair of medic technicians quickly unloaded their gear and started
"Always seems stupid this way," Cates said,
shaking his head, his light brown complexion looking deceptively like a deep
tan over caucasian features. His speech was clipped and sounded slightly
British: Trinidadian parents, he'd explained to Fiona on their first assignment
together. He was resented for that as well. Like her, he was a misfit in their
tightly circumscribed MPD world. As the ultimate misfit--the only female in
homicide--she was always partnered with those considered out of the mainstream;
freaks. Poor Cates. He had the right appendage for getting ahead at MPD, but
the color wasn't quite right. The majority of the department was black and the
percentage was rising fast. Cates unfortunately didn't precisely fit quite into
the prevailing tone. Luther Greene, commander of the Homicide division, who
they called the eggplant, had mated them with a special glee verging on
malevolence--two square pegs in his gameboard of round holes.
She fingered the handbag's contents: a thin shiny alligator
wallet, edged in gold, two fives, three singles, a ring of keys, a compact,
lipstick, a perfume vial, a stub from a paycheck. The woman apparently had
worked at Saks.
"No note?" Cates asked.
"Maybe." Fiona noted the woman's alligator shoes.
Her white cocktail dress, gooey with mud, still properly covered her body.
Peeling the dress upward from the hem, she noticed the policeman's light beam
hesitate near the thighs. She motioned his arm upward and the beam followed,
showing satin panties that covered a sculpted triangle of jet black hair. There
was always a message there, Fiona thought, but what? The medics arrived and she
stepped back to let them bag the body and lift it to the stretcher.
"How do you see it?" Cates asked. Because she was
his senior he routinely deferred to her, but sometimes his wide-eyed eagerness
grated on her. Like Fiona, he was trying hard to make it--and like her, the
odds were stacked against him. They had been together only a month, but in that
time Fiona had assumed the role of teacher--she felt she had to take the lead
if they were going to get anything done. He was also five years her junior,
which didn't help. Perhaps that was why her age was beginning to matter.
Thirty-two. The child-bearing years left were narrowing. She had made the
observation to Clint, whose only response had been stony silence. It was, of
course, a stupid thing to suggest to a man who already had a wife and family.
"All the signs of a jumper," she muttered,
forcing Clint into the background again.
"If there was a note," Cates said.
Fiona looked at him and shrugged; she hadn't found a note
pinned to the woman's dress or any other sign of a personal motive.
Cates's features were smooth and delicate, the skin taut on
prominent bones, the eyes set deep with flecks of green in the light brown, the
hair like a tight curly cap against his skull.
"They do that," she said. "Sometimes the act
itself is a note."
"Aren't people who die like this nearly always
"Probably some trouble over a man."
"How would you know?" Fiona said harshly. This
was the wrong case for her, she thought, I'm overreacting. Trouble over a man?
Again, the image of Clint returned, the man she shared.
Fiona still clutched the alligator handbag, fingering the
reptile mosaic as she watched the technicians start back across the marsh. She
turned her eyes away when she saw one of them slip, dropping the body into the
soggy muck. The dead deserved more dignity than that, she thought. Could love
really have caused this? Don't empathize, she warned herself. It's not
The drizzle had turned to fine mist as she and Cates
started back to the parkway. She was more cautious now, making sure of each
Once in the car, she used a half box of tissues to blot the
moisture on her clothes and skin and rub the mud off her shoes and raincoat.
"She sure got dressed up for it," Cates said,
starting the car.
"They always do. Sometimes they even fold their
overclothes. Or line up their shoes."
"Shiny new panties," Cates muttered, shaking his
head. "A dead giveaway."
"So you noticed. You're all prurient."
He laughed appreciatively.
"Keep an open mind. Nothing is as it seems," she
"You think she was thrown?"
"Never think with your guts," she said irritably.
The eggplant was always putting down her intuition, and along with it, her sex.
The eggplant had earned the nickname from the dumb looking vegetable that, like
the chief, could be cooked in a thousand ways. Little did he know that
detection was an art as well as a science, she'd argued privately. She didn't
need to compound the persecution.
"I had a buddy did that," Cates said,
"Jumped from the sixteenth floor."
"Trouble over a woman?" she asked innocently.
"A woman?" Again he laughed, and she immediately
understood why. Men never committed suicide over a woman. They died in fights
over them, but they never deliberately destroyed themselves. Not for a woman.
The thought increased her agitation as Clint surfaced
again. Love hurt--it blunted judgment, destroyed instincts.
Forcing concentration, she guessed the time of death at
between midnight and five, the horror hours, the time when anxiety replaced
reality. They weren't exactly her happiest hours either. She caught Cates
glancing at her.
"You okay?" he asked. She quickly looked away,
determined to shake her annoyance.
"Rough night?" he persisted. It was harmless
small talk, but it was hitting the mark.
"Turn here," Fiona snapped. Cates turned the
wheel abruptly, forcing her to sway against the window. In the absence of
anything else that could make her feel better, she took comfort in his
obedience. They had turned into a side street of townhouses, and Fiona held the
woman's license in front of her, comparing addresses.
"That one," she said, pointing to a townhouse
situated in the middle of the block.
They looked at each other in a mutual double take as they
entered Dorothy Curtis's apartment, struck by the unexpected image--a flash of
white, temporarily blinding. The living room was like a cloud bank, with puffs
of white everywhere. The over-stuffed furniture, covered with a velvety white
material, resembled rows of huge marshmallows. Heavy drapes of white hung from
the windows. On the wall was a painting of a field of daffodils breeze-bent
against a backdrop of cottony clouds. There was a white artificial fireplace
with white birch logs in one corner, before which was a white bear skin.
In the bedroom, also white, were more marshmallow pillows
and a platform bed under a mirrored ceiling, surrounded by white stuffed
animals: rabbits, teddys, a lion, a Cheshire cat. The bathroom was carpeted and
papered in white. There was a shower curtain of what seemed like plastic lace.
Even the hardware was antiqued white.
"Looks like a white freak," Fiona said. The
woman's white dress tarnished with mudstains troubled her now. It seemed so out
of character. This woman should have died of an overdose in a white nightgown,
lying on her platform bed with arms crossed over white lilies. The image made
"What is it?" Cates asked.
She ignored him, resenting his minute inspection. His
dependence was too cloying. Looking through drawers and closets, she confirmed
her expectations. More white.
"More like Hollywood than Washington," Cates
said, moving out of the bedroom.
Once he had gone, she stood motionless, soaking in the
room's silence, listening. The broken body in the ravine was totally foreign to
this setting. Looking around, her own frazzled image in the overhead mirror
caught her attention. There it was, the white room, reversed, and herself, out
of place, incongruous, floating upside down.
She longed suddenly to run from the room, return to her own
nest and the cluttered familiarity of her bedroom, with its mismatched
furniture and its flash of colors, the candy-striped sheets and pillowcases,
the jumble of clothes, the throw rugs and straight-backed wooden chair. Clint
would be rising now. He always catnapped at her place until it was time for him
to go to his office; it was part of their thrice weekly routine. He would leave
his wife's warm bed in Cleveland Park, proceed to hers on Connecticut Avenue,
let himself in with his own key, and slide in beside her, ready to make love.
She was always as eager herself. Sometimes, like tonight, they would have
dinner in her apartment, another ritual of their affair.
Tonight, she thought, it could not go on like this. To her
surprise the thought soothed her, penetrating the contrived whiteness and
flogging her mind back to the job at hand.
"I found this," Cates said, returning to the
He held a photograph in a cardboard frame. The woman smiled
back at her from a craggy promontory with a blue sky in the background. She
wore a small bikini, white, of course, fully revealing a voluptuous figure.
"A knockout," Cates muttered.
"And she knew it," Fiona said. It was a model's
pose, blonde hair rippling shoulder length, the cleavage imposing, a flat
belly, thighs well turned on slender legs.
"What a waste, to deliberately toss it all away."
"Maybe it wasn't deliberate."
"Maybe," he responded, without conviction.
"You really think she got some help?"
Fiona didn't answer, but began rummaging through drawers,
looking for traces of a male presence, a telephone book, notes, names. The
scent was there but not the source.
"Find anything?" she asked Cates, who was rifling
through living room drawers.
"No," he said, looking around the room. "But
this place is obviously subsidized."
"Obviously." The feeling of maleness clung to the
place like a layer of dust.
"It's around here somewhere," she said. Dorothy
Curtis died because of a man. And Fiona FitzGerald was determined to find out
They were ordered back to headquarters by noon. Captain
Green, a.k.a. the eggplant, had called a meeting of the entire squad and, as
usual, he was fuming. Three black teenage girls had been strangled within three
weeks, all on Wednesdays, their bodies chucked into trash cans awaiting the
sanitation trucks. The press had already dubbed them the "can
murders." All three girls were mothers of illegitimate children.
"This ain't Atlanta," he ranted. The
and TV reporters were already pointing up the comparison. The eggplant dreaded
being second-guessed by the experts, pushed aside by the FBI or any other
enforcement agency. They were always trying to muscle in on his business; he
seemed to be fighting constantly for his professional life. It was a sure sign
of his incompetence, Fiona thought, all this strident posturing.
Assigning more men to the can murders meant more pressure
on her and Cates, whose assignment that week was "routines," which
meant checking out all deaths, natural or otherwise, that occurred in the District of Columbia. It was an assignment that rotated within the squad and was,
occasionally, the eggplant's method of punishing offenders, real or imagined.