Faithless in Death (In Death #52) by J. D. Robb

Street level consisted of a place called Poets and Painters and a shop called Herbalists. Both had wide windows facing the street, as did the upper stories.

No privacy screens, she noted, no security bars, just glass.

She walked to the wine-colored door, between the two businesses, that accessed the units.

No security camera, standard locks.

“You could break in with a toothpick,” she decided, and mastered in.

Iron steps led straight up to the second floor, where a door on the right had a decent alarm system and the double doors on the left had solid locks.

“DB’s upstairs,” she told Peabody.

They went up, boots clattering.

A uniform waited in the open doorway on the right. The double doors on the left stood open. At a glance Eve saw easels, stools, worktables, tools, big and small hunks of stone and wood.

She heard music pouring out of the room behind the uniform.

She held up her badge, turned on her recorder.

“Lieutenant.” The uniform, female, about fifty, her short, densely curled hair tidy under her cap, stepped back. “Officer Miller. My partner, Officer Getz, is upstairs with the DB.”

“Run it through.”

“We’d just completed taking a complaint up the block, were going off shift when the call came in. Zero-eight-thirty-three hours. Half a block away, you gotta take it. No response at either unit on this level, and we could hear the music through the door.”

Hot-tempered music, Eve thought. A lot of bass, a lot of angry drums.

“No soundproofing,” the uniform continued. “We woke the tenant downstairs in case she had access, which she did. Hettie Brownstone. She and the DB are the only tenants other than the commercial on the street—neither of which were open at the time we arrived. Ms. Brownstone gave us her key cards to both units rented and occupied by Ariel Byrd, and complied when we asked her to wait in her apartment. We announced ourselves, entered. My partner took the second level while I cleared this one. He found the DB.”

Miller shifted to glance toward the stairs. Through the wide cased opening, Eve saw the other cop standing at parade rest, the wide window at his back, some shelving flanking it.

“It’s an artist’s studio, sir. Like for sculpting. The back of her head’s caved in. A good-sized hammer, like a mallet, is on the floor beside her, and has blood and gray matter on it—visibly. Also a take-out bag from Café Delish—that’s about a block east—on the floor at the top of the stairs. Like somebody dropped it, and the fancy coffee splatted good. Two muffins inside the bag.

“We secured the scene, called it in. I went down to inform Ms. Brownstone and conduct the initial interview.”

Miller glanced down at the notes in her hand.

“She’s known the victim for three years, since the vic moved in. She runs a dance studio on the premises, directly across from her apartment. According to her statement, she concluded her last class at nine, locked up. She has a five-year-old kid. She didn’t leave the premises, didn’t hear or see anyone. She states she put the kid to bed by nine-fifteen, took a shower, and had a glass of wine while she watched some screen until about ten-thirty.”

Miller looked up from her notes. “She was upset, Lieutenant, but cooperative. She stated she would speak to the investigating officers when they arrived, but had to get her kid to school. She would be back by nine.”

“All right. We’ve got the scene. I’m going to send your partner down. I want you to check with the Poet place. They’d have been open last night. And there’s cams on their door and the herb place. I want to see the feed from both.”

“Yes, sir, Lieutenant.”

“See what you can find out from the café, and check on Brownstone when she gets back. Inform her one or both of us will come down to speak with her as soon as possible.”

“Yes, sir. Sir, I want to add, when I cleared this level, I noticed the bed, unless the victim wasn’t in the habit of making it, had been used. I think used, as there are wineglasses on either bedside table, and a nearly empty bottle of Shiraz on a counter in the kitchen area.”

“Good to know. Thank you, Officer.”

Eve walked to the stairs—not iron here, but wood. Old, maybe original.

The male uniform, maybe fifteen years his partner’s junior, met them at the top.

To his right on the floor, the soaked take-out bag lay in a pool of creamy brown liquid.

“Lieutenant. Miller said not to turn the music off. You’d want to keep everything, even that, the way it was when we accessed.”