NYPD Homicide detectives Carrie Blake and Tom Elway can’t seem to stay out of the spotlight. The odd-couple partners have a talent for finding serial killers, and only four months after hunting one down, something even more sinister is stalking the Big Apple.
And this time, they’re going up against some of the most powerful one-percenters in Manhattan. People who are usually untouchable by the law. But now one of them has fallen into crimes so depraved that the NYPD has been forced to take notice.
Drawn by the case to high-tech luxury apartment building Golden Towers, the pair go undercover as a wealthy married couple seeking a home there. The suspect pool is endless, and their stay is marred by bizarre encounters with the eccentric residents—from curmudgeonly eccentric Edwin Golden, to his brittle, secretive wife Barbara and the deranged painter Emmanuel Zhao.
With amazing amounts of money protecting them, how can the duo not only find the killer but also ensure the guilty party is brought to justice?
An incredible edge of your seat page turner that will have you guessing right til the very end.
Release date: February 24, 2022
Print pages: 288
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Deadly Justice: Absolutely gripping crime fiction with unputdownable mystery and suspense
Jane Broxton had been lying about on some recently laundered clothes draped all over her couch for almost three straight days now. She did, of course, get up for various reasons. She slept in her bed. She watered her plants. She 'cooked', which was a fancy way of explaining to her friends and family that she made the trip to the refrigerator and ate whatever was there that seemed edible. Sometimes, for no reason other than to stretch, really, she stood up to turn on her smart phone music or the television. It was all voice activated, so she didn't actually have to stand up. That said, all things considered, for the past seventy-two hours, Jane had been living on the couch. And in the same clothes for the past three days as well.
Objectively, she hated the thought of that. But then she brushed off her feelings, telling herself that she’d earned it.
That didn't make it any more appealing, though.
Getting up off the couch, she went for a shower and started thinking about where she would go out tonight. Somewhere she didn't have any connections, somewhere that really wouldn't count for anything, where she wouldn't have to invest herself so heavily. And she had to be honest with herself, somewhere cheap.
Money isn't an issue right now, Jane told herself. But she knew it wouldn't be long before it would be.
Not long after she stepped out of the shower, she looked through her closet at what she wanted to wear tonight. Honestly, nothing fancy. No need to get decked out. Nice jeans, and probably a comfortable enough jacket, certainly. There was no need to show off or look respectable. After having spent so much time working in that psychological nightmare of a home, the last thing she wanted to worry about was wearing something that looked 'respectable'.
The best part, she thought, was that she could go out in shoes that had no heels.
This was a joy to her, one that she had certainly earned. At her old job, she had to wear heels. Every day. Even when there wasn't an event going on, or when the snowy weather outside simply wouldn't justify wearing heels, she still had to wear the damn things. They were ridiculously uncomfortable. They made a mind-numbing clicking sound that she had grown to hate. She was scared to walk in them at night. She knew that she would never be able to outrun anybody in those things. And walking the streets of New York City late at night, alone in the dark, wasn't the safest environment for Jane or any woman. Certainly not in high heels.
To be able to go wherever she wanted at night, in flat dress shoes, seemed like a victory to somebody who had nowhere to go, nothing to look forward to, and little money in her pocket to throw around. But it was a perk that she desperately wanted right now. She kept telling herself that she had earned this.
Settling on the jeans, the leather jacket, and her flats, she sat down on her bed and pulled out her smart phone, trying to decide where to go this evening. Somewhere that fit the description she was thinking about before her shower, nondescript, different, outside her usual comfort zone, and the like. But the more she started to browse the list of potential destinations, her eyes kept gravitating toward the little dollar signs, the recommendations of how much you were expected to spend at any given place. Jane found herself sitting there, her chest getting heavy at each dollar sign, her breath filled with anxiety even at the sight of them. It was a genuine concern.
A little over three days ago, Jane had lost her job.
This outing was supposed to be a celebration of sorts, of being able to get off the couch and get back to her life. She wondered if it were possibly premature.
Admittedly, Jane had trouble shaking off those old feelings she had back from her college days of constant financial worry and being irresponsible with her money and suddenly finding herself without any. It was an old feeling, but it still weighed heavily on her and fed her sense of anxiety about spending money when she was out of work. In reality, she actually had a fairly large bank account at this point and had kept it very stable for several years now. In fact, she was able to keep it growing for quite some time. Before . . .
Well, before Tracy died.
Scrolling down the phone screen, Jane eventually settled on what looked like a dive bar in Manhattan. She certainly didn't want to head off in the direction of Manhattan again. But by the looks of it, this bar wasn't anywhere near her old boss's place. She had to take some detours that drove her firmly in a different direction. So, it's not like she was going back there. Plus, it wasn't the kind of place that she would normally have expected of herself—kind of dark, with lots of sports televisions and pool tables if the photos were any indication, a bit of a seedy dive bar, actually. Wild, loose, what she had always denied herself for years. It sounded like exactly what she needed right then.
That, and cheap. Cheap booze was good enough right now.
Jane got dressed and looked for her car keys. On her way back into the living room, she glanced at Tracy's door. The room beyond had been cleaned out for months now.
For years, Tracy had been her roommate. It was an interesting arrangement to start with, Jane thought. Tracy wasn't anybody she had known since childhood. She wasn't even a college friend. Tracy was somebody Jane had met through an ad she'd posted online looking for a roommate. She'd needed somebody who would be able to help with paying rent on the apartment. Jane figured anybody would do, so long as they were safe and not completely crazy.
When she met Tracy, she seemed to at least fit the 'safe' part of the bill. And then, over the years, she'd gotten to know her.
Tracy was an online celebrity. She'd had her own series of internet videos teaching people how to put on various brands of makeup, how to experiment with different styles. And that, apparently, was how she made a living. Sitting in front of a camera, putting on makeup, and uploading it.
Jane used to think, if that was the way this girl made a living, maybe she didn't exactly fit the description of 'sane'.
But firstly, she did actually work in a café to supplement her income. And secondly, it seemed to work.
Tracy had built up a bit of a following in the online community and had one of those donation pages where patrons could fund her online lifestyle. Given how Tracy always paid her rent on time and could also afford outrageous amounts of makeup and recording equipment, it was proof enough that her lifestyle worked. By all appearances, Jane was the roommate of an online celebrity.
Was being the operative word.
That was before the Red-Ribbon Killer. Before Jane had walked into Tracy's room wondering what that coppery smell was about.
Before she saw exactly where that smell had been coming from.
And she realized that she would never talk to Tracy again.
Tracy was nice, a bit awkward, introverted, a bit of a different personality from the exuberant woman she'd portrayed herself as in her videos. Jane had seen only a few of them, but overall, she was actually a sweet and decent person. And in the time that they had been living together, Jane felt that they were starting to get along pretty well. They watched TV together, followed the same celebrity figures, and even cracked a few jokes. Jane didn't get a chance to connect with any of her old friends from her youth as often as she liked, so it was nice to be able to hang out with Tracy. Despite the stereotype that adults didn't really develop their social circles that much, Jane really felt like she had made an adult friend.
And just like that, Tracy was dead. In her home.
In their home. Barely a room away from where Jane slept.
Then the police investigations, the cleanup crew, the consoling from her family. The visits Jane made to Tracy's family. The therapy. The fear of sleeping in her own bed.
The sheer creepiness after Tracy's old room had been emptied of her personal belongings. After the room was cleaned with ammonia to wipe away all the blood stains. Just the idea that everything Tracy ever was in Jane's life was just gone, uprooted, as if it were never even there.
And eventually, the reassurance over the news that her friend's murderer, the so-called Red-Ribbon Killer, some lonely, pathetic man-child who couldn't take a woman's rejection with grace, was finally discovered and caught by the police. Or was he gunned down? Jane wasn't sure of the details anymore. The point was, some NYPD detectives got him, and he wouldn't be able to do that to Jane or any other girl in New York.
But Jane still had to live next to an empty room. No matter what happened to that killer, that simply wouldn't change.
After looking around for a bit, Jane finally found her keys—in between the cushions of the couch, obviously. After all, where else would they have been? She'd only spent three days there, give or take.
Grabbing her car keys and her purse, she glanced once more at Tracy's old room before shutting off the lights to her apartment. It was odd to pass by that doorway every day and see the room empty. But Jane told herself that she still wasn't ready to fill the room with anything or anyone else. It was so hard to make friends in general, and Jane found it hard to believe that she had not only managed that but managed it with a genuinely interesting person. She seemed like she was actually a lot of fun and was slowly coming out of her shell. Jane would've loved to get the opportunity to get to know her better. Now she never would.
And still, she missed her. It seemed disrespectful, somehow, to fill her room with anybody else.
Jane had arrived at her apartment complex parking lot and found her old car. Climbing in, she started the engine and drove away. Cheap booze, she told herself. Cheap booze would be just perfect right about now.
On her way to Manhattan, Jane was thinking about how, if life had been different, she would've desperately needed to fill that apartment space with a different roommate. It wasn't exactly easy to live alone in New York City. Everything was so expensive that it was very rare for people to be able to live without a roommate.
But life hadn't exactly turned out the way it normally should've for Jane. Yes, she had an education in teaching, but since then, she really couldn't find work as a teacher. She floated around as a substitute teacher for a while, subbing at various schools, but rarely in the same classroom until one day, she just couldn't take it anymore. The disrespect from the kids toward a sub was draining, to say the least.
That was when she managed to snag a lucrative job as a domestic servant for a family downtown. They were an exceptionally wealthy Manhattanite family, their wealth coming from something to do with science or production or something. Truthfully, Jane was never actually sure of what they did. She just appreciated their paying her.
Basically, Jane was their personal house servant, not unlike a butler or a maid. She cleaned the home, she watched for any news affairs, and listened for any phone calls whenever her boss was out. Which turned out to be something of a waste of time since her employers all carried the latest smart phones and were able to get all their personal calls instantly anyway.
So basically, she was paid to show up at their place, look great, and act all domestic. Financially, it was a great deal. It wasn't exactly what she was hoping for with her degree in education, but given what the job market looked like, Jane wasn't exactly about to look a gift horse in the mouth. The fact of the matter was, they paid well. Very, very well.
Given the amount of money she was making measured against how much work she actually had to do in their home, Jane sometimes wondered if there were something else going on. Were they secretly trying to prostitute her or get her involved in some sort of crazy sex games? That seemed like it could've been a plausible possibility, except that they never offered anything of the sort to Jane. In fact, she rarely saw the husband and wife together at all. At a certain point, she had to start wondering if they were ever really together. They certainly didn't act like it.
Was the whole 'family' simply a cover, some sort of operation, a front for something else entirely? And therefore, was Jane just for decoration? Jane didn't have any proof of that, or of the opposite.
At the end of the day, Jane just didn't really have any explanation as to why a personal house servant was needed for a job that looked like it could've been easily handled by either the husband or the lady of the house. All she knew was that after every two weeks, her bank account was flooded. And that, if nothing else, was reason enough to keep her mouth shut.
In actuality, Jane was making so much money from the servant job that after a while, she realized that she didn't need a roommate after all. She could've afforded to live in that little apartment all by herself. She certainly had for the last few months since . . . since Tracy's death.
Except she was making just enough money to be able to live by herself if she did nothing other than work and sleep. She certainly wanted to have something vaguely similar to a personal life, something to do on her weekends and in her evenings to prove that everything she had labored for and struggled for all this time had amounted to something. The easiest way to get that was to have somebody help with paying her rent. And on top of that, she thought that it would be nice to have somebody to hang around with.
And as it turned out, Tracy had been truly wonderful and genuinely wonderful to hang around with. She really had become a close friend.
Jane had lost a close friend.
Then, three days ago, Jane had lost her job. She had lost her reason to get up in the morning. And thus, she spent the last seventy-two hours basically living on her couch. It was about as 'no frills' as it got.
After only about forty-five or so minutes on the road, Jane arrived at the dive bar, which certainly lived up to its description. There were overloaded trashcans out on the sidewalk, and the bar front itself looked like it was chipping and rusting away. An intoxicated man lay, probably unconscious, up against the wall next to the door. There was a sign just above the door which read, Parking in the Rear, and was decorated with rather graphic and vulgar graffiti.
Going around to the rear of the building, Jane found that the area had its own outdoor parking lot, serving anybody who frequented the bar and possibly one of the other store locations there. The parking lot itself was riddled with broken glass and what looked like hypodermic needles, as well as a couple of dead rats. The light posts hanging high over the parking lot were, for the most part, either broken or flickering. There was no part of this experience that wasn't making it clear to Jane that this was a dangerous place to be and that she could certainly do a lot better than this.
Despite that, Jane parked—not hard to do, since she was one of only four cars in the entire parking lot—and walked back around the way she came. Going in, she found exactly the bar that she'd seen in the photos on her smart phone, except in a rather different state. The photos were obviously taken when the bar was cleaned up a bit or possibly when it was brand-new. Currently, many of the lights were non-functional, and the seats and the bar seemed decrepit. There were a few men—bikers, by the look of them—playing pool in the far corner of the bar. There were many booths, but most were unpopulated. By virtue of their lack of seated guests, it was obvious that the leather cushioning on the seats was torn in most places, spilling out its very grungy foam from within. Not that all the booths were empty. What few people were sitting in the booths were either men who were passed out or men who did everything in their power to hide how miserable and sad they looked. Jane wasn't sure which she would've preferred seeing, the rather pathetic seats or the rather pathetic patrons.
On the other end of the room was the bar with several stools lining it. At least there wasn't anybody there, save the bartender. She went over and grabbed herself a stool.
The bar area was its usual array of several dozens of different types of hard liquor bottles, some possibly empty and simply decorative, sitting in front of a pretty typical mirror that was probably intended to give the bar an underground tavern feel. In actuality, the mirror was chipped and old, and certainly dirty enough that no one would be able to see themselves in it unless they squinted. Jane was almost entirely confident that it was some sort of health violation having that mirror so untouched and filthy.
The bartender was a bald man with a large scruffy beard, hairy knuckles on his fingers, and muscles that pressed out against his dress shirt. He seemed uncomfortable in that shirt, almost as if it were the first time that he had ever worn it. There was a very realistic possibility that he probably normally came to work in a muscle shirt, unafraid to show off his shoulder hair in a place like this.
As she came up to the bar and sat down, the bartender eyed her with curiosity. "Can I help you?" he asked.
"Yeah, I'd like a drink," Jane responded with a little bit of stiffness. There was a lot about this environment to make her feel uncomfortable, not the least of which the way the man asked, 'Can I help you?' like that. As far as Jane was concerned, it was obvious why she was here. It was a bar. She was here to drink. She didn't need to be treated like . . .
Jane exhaled and let her head hang low. She realized that she was being very judgmental at the moment, making determinations about the bartender's motivation. In actuality, she had no idea what he meant by saying, 'Can I help you?' instead of, 'What can I get you?' or something else of the sort. It could've just been a choice of phrasing. And when Jane finally thought it through, she had to admit to herself that she had no reason to judge the bartender's character based on how he looked, or any of the men unconscious in the booths. Of course, she knew what kind of bar she was going to late in the evening. Of course, she knew what she was getting herself into. So why was she being critical of everything around her before she really got to interact with anyone?
And then she accepted that it was all because of that asshole and that home.
Her old job. Her servitude in that soul-crushing occupation as a house servant. All that wealth, all that upper Manhattan attitude. That whole atmosphere of superiority, of being able to look down on all the little people of New York and probably all around the world. Despite Jane's best efforts, it really did rub off on her, at least a little bit. Being able to, even temporarily, visit a place like that gave one a glimpse into the lifestyles of the rich and famous and just how relaxingly comfortable it was. It was so much easier to live there than anywhere else in the world. And it was so easy to trick one's brain into thinking what a good life one was living. What a better life.
What a better life than everybody else.
How easy it was to measure the value of a human being through quantity, whether it was the quantity of liquid wealth or the number of fancy couches sitting next to end-tables made of rare and expensive wood. How people who could afford such incredible wealth, and be able to hold onto it and even be able to forget it, as if it were so easy to just brush it off and get another, could easily be thought of as people who had earned incredible success. All the little people underneath who didn't have that kind of wealth, well, they just deserved what they got, didn't they?
Jane had never met this bartender before, and she felt that she had already determined exactly who he was based on how creepy he looked in her eyes. She didn't want to live like that.
Unfortunately, the first impression she left on the bartender was, thanks to her response, a little smart and flippant, so it wasn't much of a surprise to her that the bartender didn't respond in a very friendly manner.
"And that would be?" he asked.
"Um . . ." she said, stalling. She hadn't actually thought that far ahead. "A dark ale, something Irish."
The bartender sighed in annoyance as he grabbed a glass and started pouring her something from the tap. He obviously didn't like her, but he wouldn't take his gaze off her either. Jane entertained the thought that maybe he was doing it because he didn't trust her, but in reality, she had spent enough time in bars to assume the worst. He was probably just dogging her. She didn't have to be a stuck-up, snooty Manhattanite to trust her instinct about men who stared.
In the end, there was something wrong with the family she had to work for in Manhattan, so at least she could tell herself that thinking of them as 'stuck up' and 'snooty' wasn't being outrageous. They were horrible people to work for. Jane had been doing the standard things that she always did in her job like cleaning, collecting various things lying about on the floor like shirts or magazines or newspapers and assembling them into polite little piles. She walked beautifully and authoritatively wherever she went. She smiled back at whoever smiled at her. Not invitingly, but just enough to make the recipient of her smile feel like a million bucks. She, of course, couldn't really remember the details of anybody who smiled at her or anybody she smiled toward. She didn't really feel she had a connection with any of them. It’s an interesting way to make a living, she'd thought, basing all your affectations entirely on lies.
Jane did everything correctly, followed every rule, never stuck her nose in other people's business, and never made a fuss. And then, one day, she was fired.
For walking into a room that she wasn't allowed to walk into.
In actuality, Jane had treated her occupation as such a hypnotic chore that she barely recalled where she actually went to do anything. She felt almost entirely confident that at one point or another, she had been in every room in that home. Now, whether she had been told to actually stay out of certain rooms, she didn't actually remember. She freely admitted to herself that it was probably very likely. But after working that job for quite some time, she felt she really couldn't care less where it was that she went so long as nobody bothered her. If, in fact, she had managed to walk into a room that she wasn't supposed to go into, even if she had seen something she wasn't supposed to see or heard something she wasn't supposed to hear or anything of the sort, she figured that just wandering into a room, no matter how forbidden, would result in nothing more than a reprimand and maybe getting chewed out by a couple of exceedingly wealthy and overly privileged old snobs. It couldn't possibly be that serious, after all.
She certainly didn't expect to get yelled at by that horrid asshole. Didn't expect to get threatened and assaulted. Didn't expect to lose her job right on the spot.
In any other circumstance, a list of reactions like that would cause Jane, or anybody, to say good riddance, and treat the loss of such a job as a blessing in disguise. But this job paid well. Very, very well. And in this day and age, that wasn't anything that Jane could simply ignore.
It wasn't enough to frighten a woman into lying on a couch for almost three days straight. Her life had gone on hiatus, and she wasn't sure what would come next. It was actually rather terrifying.
Just being able to get off the couch and go out to a bar was a victory in and of itself.
Starting to pay attention to her surroundings once again, Jane realized that while she was reflecting, the bartender had been talking to her rather nicely. A little too nicely, really, saying how pretty she looked and making vague references to the fact that a 'hot chick' like her could probably have any man she wanted.
It was not the night for this, Jane thought. This was not the night for tolerating some gross asshole or having to tell him to lay off and hope that he didn't just grab her right over the bar. She didn't need this. She really didn't.
Jane knew that the odds of her perfect fantasy dark, dirty man hitting on her in exactly this bar during these circumstances was, as the name implied, just a fantasy. But at the very least, she was hoping that she would be able to just, for one night, be able to go anywhere she wanted, do anything she pleased, and just remind herself that no matter what happened to her, no matter how much was taken away from her—her roommate, her job—at the end of the day, it was her life. Her choice.
She didn't need reality telling her how awful everything was.
Jane finished her single mug of beer and quickly glanced around the bar. The bartender was telling her when he got off work and making very heavy-handed and poorly executed insinuations as to when he could help her, as he put it, 'get off' as well—what a place, Jane thought to herself, so, so happy she came—and while the bartender was doing this, some of the other lads in the bar were starting to take notice of her as well. It was very late into the evening, she was drinking, and this wasn't exactly a pleasant neighborhood by the looks of it. This was a mistake, Jane thought. This wouldn’t end well.
She wasn't exactly sure how much the beer cost, but she reached into her purse and pulled out enough cash to be reasonably certain that she had paid for over twice the cost of it. She told the bartender to keep the change before making a hasty retreat out of the bar. Somewhere behind her, the bartender was kindly imploring her to stay, quickly turning into violent accusations of her being a 'dumb slut' and various other barely audible insults. She practically ripped the door off its hinges throwing it open, escaping into the night.
Rounding the same corner as before, she hastily made her way back toward her car in the darkened parking lot. The few lights that were functioning and flickering had, in the short time she'd been in the bar, gone out, leaving only one very poorly functioning light that may as well have not been there, since it wasn't really illuminating anything. Jane slowed her pace slightly in order to spin around a few times, keeping her eyes open in the darkness. At the very least, she was starting to get nervous that maybe the bartender, or one of the other drunken patrons of that bar, may have followed her out in order to assault her. She just couldn't help the feeling that there was somebody else in the darkness. That she was being followed.
Keeping her eyes as focused as possible as she turned one more time, Jane proceeded toward her car, only realizing a little too late that in this darkness, she wasn't sure which one was her car. She started looking for the familiar shape, hoping she could catch the familiar color in the darkness.
All of a sudden, all she could see were colors, brilliant spots of bursting technicolor—blue, red, green—exploding in front of her eyes, only erased when her face collided with whatever random car was in front of her, bouncing off and hitting the ground. She tried to shake the gravel and little bits of slush off her cheek when she felt a firm grip grab her hair, and then her face was slammed back down into the pavement. If she had been able to think clearly, she would've been certain that she had broken her nose.
Maybe it was the bartender assaulting her in the dark, Jane vaguely began to think as reality slowly drifted away. Maybe it was one of the other guys who were playing pool in the bar. In all honesty, given this place she chose, maybe it was some homeless guy.
Or maybe it was the Red-Ribbon Killer. Was he ever actually caught or killed? Jane wondered. Maybe it really was him, coming back, finishing what he’d started with Tracy. There would be something oddly sweet, poetic, about understanding what it was that Tracy had gone through, she thought. Maybe she'd be able to see Tracy again. Maybe she'd be able to tell her how much she missed her, how much she missed her friend and roommate.
As her eyes glazed over and her vision somehow grew even darker, the voice of her attacker softly flowed in the distance. "Now, what am I going to do with you?"
Yes, Jane thought in her last moment. I would love to see Tracy again.
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