Richard Castle: Heat Rises

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Richard Castle Heat Rises
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    Heat Rises
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Richard Castle

Heat Rises


The thing about New York City is you never know what’s behind a door. Homicide Detective Nikki Heat pondered that, as she had so many times, while she parked her Crown Victoria and watched police cruiser and ambulance lights lick the storefronts on 74th off Amsterdam. She knew, for instance, the plain door to the wine shop opened into a faux cave done in soft beige and terra-cotta tones with stacked bottles nested in wall grottos fashioned of river stones imported from France. Across the street, the door of what had once been an FDR-era bank gave onto a staircase that spiraled downward to a huge array of indoor batting cages that filled with tween MLB hopefuls and kid birthday parties on weekend afternoons. But on that morning, just after 4 A. M ., the most nondescript door of all, the frosted one without a sign, only a street number above it in gold and black foil stick-ons from a hardware store, would lead to one of the more unexpected interiors of the quiet block.

A uniform posted in front of the door shuffled to keep warm, silhouetted by the industrial-grade crime scene unit work light from inside that transformed the milky glass into the blinding Close Encounters portal. Nikki could see his breath from forty yards away.

She got out, and even though the air bit her nostrils and made her eyes teary, Nikki didn’t button her coat against it. Instead she fanned it open with the back of her hand by rote, making sure that she had clean access to the Sig Sauer holstered underneath. And then, cold as she was, the homicide cop stopped and stood there to perform her next ritual: a pause to honor the dead she was about to meet. That small, quiet, private moment lived as a ceremonial interval Nikki Heat claimed when she arrived at every crime scene. Its purpose was simple. To reaffirm that, victim or villain, the waiting corpse was human and deserved to be respected and treated individually, not as the next stat. Nikki drew in a slow breath, and the air felt to her the same as that night a decade ago, a Thanksgiving eve, when she was home on college break and her mother was brutally stabbed to death and left on the kitchen floor. She closed her eyes for her Moment.

“Something wrong, Detective?” Moment gone. Heat turned. A taxi rolled to a stop, and its passenger was addressing her from his backseat window. She recognized him and the driver, and smiled.

“No, Randy, I’m good.” Heat stepped over to the cab and shook hands with Detective Randall Feller. “You keeping out of trouble?”

“Hope not,” he said with the laugh that always reminded her of John Candy. “You remember Dutch,” he said, making a head nod to Detective Van Meter up front in the driver’s seat. Feller and Van Meter worked undercover in the NYPD Taxi Squad, a special anti-crime task force, run out of the Special Operations Division, that roved New York’s streets in customized yellow cabs. The plainclothes cops of the Taxi Squad had a foot in the old school. They were generally tough asses who took no crap and did what they wanted and went where they wanted. Taxi Dicks roamed freely to sniff out crimes in progress, although with more scientific policing had lately been assigned to target their patrols in areas where robberies, burglaries, and street crimes spiked.

The cop at the wheel rolled his window down and nodded a wordless hi, making her wonder why Van Meter had bothered to open it. “Careful, Dutch, you’ll talk her ear off,” said Detective Feller with the Candy chuckle again. “Lucky you, Nikki Heat, getting the middle-of- the-night call.”

Dutch said, “Some folks have no manners, getting killed at this hour.” Heat didn’t imagine Detective Van Meter paused a lot for reflection before meeting a corpse.

“Listen,” she said. “Not that I don’t like standing in twenty-five degrees, but I’ve got a vic waiting.”

“Where’s your ride-along?” said Feller with more than a little interest. “The writer, what’s his face?”

Feller, fishing again. Just like he did every time they crossed paths, testing to see if Rook was still in the picture. Nikki had been on Feller’s radar since the night months before when she escaped from a hired killer in Rook’s loft. After Heat’s battle with the Texan, he and Dutch were in the first wave of cops who raced to her aid. Ever since, Feller never missed a chance to pretend he didn’t know Rook’s name and take a sounding on her. Heat rolled with it; she was no stranger to interest from men, even liked it if they didn’t cross a line, but Feller… In the Rom-Com he’d be more Com than Rom; the joshing brother rather than the love interest. Detective Feller was funny and good company but more for beers in the cop bar than Sancerre by candlelight. Two weeks ago she’d seen him come out of the men’s room at Plug Uglies wearing a sanitary tissue ring around his neck, asking everyone if they’d also like a lobster bib.

“What’s his face?” repeated Nikki. “He’s off on assignment.” And then to send the message, she added, “He’s back at the end of this week, though.” But the detective read something else in her voice.

“That a good thing or a bad thing?”

“Good thing,” Heat said a little too abruptly. So she flashed a grin trying to reset her tone. “Real good.” And then, to convince herself, she added, “Really good.”

What Nikki found on the other side of the door was not an urban shrine to oenology with artfully stacked green bottles, nor did she hear the ping of an aluminum bat followed by the thud of a ball into padded netting. Instead, a throat-catching mixture of incense mixed with vapors from a harsh cleaning solvent rose up to greet her as she descended a flight of stairs to the basement. Behind her, Detective Van Meter moaned a low “Whoa,” and as Heat rounded the landing to make her turn down the last flight, she heard Dutch and Feller snapping on gloves. Van Meter muttered to his partner, “I catch an STD down here, I’ll sue till I own the damn city.”

At basement level they arrived at something that only charitably could be referred to as a reception area. The crimson painted-brick walls behind the Formica counter and the Internet catalogue chairs reminded her of a small, private gym lobby, and not a very high-end one. Four doors were spaced along the far wall. They were all open. Three led into dim rooms, lit only by the spill of harsh radiance from the CSU light stands set up to illuminate the lobby during the investigation. More light, punctuated by strobe flashes came from the far doorway, where Detective Raley stood watching the activity, latexed hands by his side. He saw Nikki out of the corner of his eye and stepped out to her.

“Welcome to Pleasure Bound, Detective Heat,” he said.

Copsense made Nikki scope out the other three rooms before entering the crime scene itself. She knew they’d have been cleared by Raley and the uniforms who responded first, but she poked her head in each doorway for a quick glance. All she could make out in the murkiness were the shapes of equipment and furniture of the bondage trade, and that each chamber was themed. In order: a Victorian boudoir, an animal role-play parlor, and a sensory deprivation room. In the coming hours these would be swept by CSU, and forensic evidence gathered, but for now she was satisfied with her survey. Heat took out her gloves and walked to the far doorway, where Feller and Van Meter waited deferentially behind Raley. This was her case, on her turf, and unspoken etiquette dictated she go in ahead of them.

The corpse was naked and bound at the wrists and ankles to an X-shaped vertical wooden frame known as the St. Andrew’s Cross. The structure was bolted to the floor and the ceiling in the center of the room, and the dead man’s body sagged downward, bent at the knees, his buttocks hovering above the linoleum. The bulk of his weight, which Heat put at almost 250 pounds, now unsupported by muscle, strained the wrist straps high over his head and pulled his arms into a taut Y.

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