Linda Fairstein

The DeadHouse

Alex Cooper Book 04


Alexander Cooper


Karen Cooper

Who steals my purse steals trash, But he that filches from me my good name - Shakespeare

Best man, brilliant architect

with gratitude for the loving loan of your good name


It was hard not to smile as I watched Lola Dakota die.

I clicked the remote control button and listened to the commentary again on another network.

'New Jersey police officers have released a portion of these dramatic videotapes to the media this evening. We're going to play for you the actual recordings the three hit men hired by her husband to kill Ms. Dakota made to prove to him that they had accomplished their mission.'

The local reporter was posed in front of a large mansion in the town of Summit, less than an hour's drive from where I was sitting, in the video technicians' office of the New York County District Attorney. Snowflakes drifted and swirled around her head as she pointed a gloved hand at the darkened facade of a house ringed with strands of tiny white Christmas lights that outlined the roof, the windows, and the enormous wreath on the front door.

'Earlier this afternoon, before the sun went down, Hugh,' the woman addressed the news channel's anchorman, 'those of us who gathered here for word of Ms. Dakota's condition could see pools of blood, left in the snow during the early morning shooting. It will be a grim holiday season for this forty-two-year-old university professor's family. Let's take you back over the story that led to this morning's tragic events.'

Mike Chapman grabbed the clicker from my hand and pressed the mute button, then jabbed at my back with it. 'How come the Jersey prosecutors got to do this caper? Too big for you to handle, blondie?'

As the bureau chief in charge of sex crimes for the New York County District Attorney's Office for more than a decade, sexual assault cases-as well as domestic violence and stalking crimes- fell under my jurisdiction. The district attorney, Paul Battaglia, ran an office with a legal staff of more than six hundred lawyers, but he had taken a particular interest in the investigation of the professor's perilous marital entanglement.

'Battaglia didn't like the whole idea-the risk, the melodrama, and… well, the emotional instability of Lola Dakota. He probably didn't know the story would look this good on the late news broadcast or he might have reconsidered.'

Chapman lifted his foot to the edge of my chair and swiveled it around so that I faced him. 'Had you worked with Lola for a long time?'

'I guess it's been almost two years since the first day I met her. Someone called Battaglia from the president's office at Columbia University. Said there was a matter that needed to be handled discreetly.' I reached for a cup of coffee. 'One of their professors had split from her husband, and he was stalking her. The usual domestic. She didn't want to have him arrested, didn't want any publicity that would embarrass the administration-just wanted him to leave her alone. The DA kicked it over to me to try to mat it happen. That's how I met Lola Dakota. And became aware of her miserable husband.'

'What'd you do for her?'

Chapman worked homicides, most of the time relying on sophisticated forensic technology and reliable medical evidence to solve his cases. He rarely dealt with breathing witnesses, and although he was the best detective in the Manhattan North Squad when he came face-to-face with a corpse, Chapman was always intrigued by how the rest of us in law enforcement managed to untangle and resolve the delicate problems of the living.

'Met with her several times, trying to convince her that we could make a prosecution stick and gain her trust to let me bring charges. I explained that filing a criminal complaint was the on way I could get a judge to put some muscle behind our actions Lola was like most of our victims. She wanted the violence to stop, but she did not want to face her spouse in a court of law.

'It worked?'

'No better than usual. When reasoning with her failed, we relocated her to a temporary apartment, arranged for counseling and sent a couple of our detectives to talk to her husband informally and explain that Lola was giving him a break.'

'Happy to see the local constables, was he?'

'Elated. They told him that she didn't want us to lock him up, but if he kept harassing her, that wasn't a choice I would allow her to make the next time he darkened her doorway. So he behaved… for a while.'

'Until she moved back in with him?'

'Right. Just in time for Valentine's Day.'

'Hearts and flowers, happily ever after?'

'Eight months.' I turned back to glance at the screen, motioning to Mike to give us sound again. Flakes were caking up on tl reporter's eyelids as she continued to tell her story, reminding me that undoubtedly snow was piling up on my Jeep as well, which was parked in front of the building. A picture of Ivan Kralovic, Lola's husband, appeared as an insert on the bottom right corner of the screen.

'We've got to take a short break,' the reporter said, repeating the euphemistic phrase that signaled a commercial interruption, 'then we'll show you the dramatic footage that led to Mr. Kralovic's arrest today.'

Mike got rid of the noise. 'And at the end of those eight months, what happened? Did you lock him up the second time?'

'No. She wouldn't even give me a clue about what he had done. Called me that October to ask how to get an order of protection. After I greased the wheels to expedite it for her in family court, she told me she had rented an apartment on Riverside Drive, moved to a new office away from the campus, and settled her problems with Ivan the Terrible.'

'Don't disappoint me, Coop. Tell me he lived up to his name.'

'Predictably. It was in January of this year that he cut her with a corkscrew, while they were enjoying a quiet dinner for two. Must have mistaken her for a good Burgundy. Sliced open her forearm. He raced her to St. Luke's and it took twenty-seven stitches to close her up.'

'They were together for just that one evening?'

'No, he had coaxed her back for the holidays a month earlier. A seasonal reconciliation.'

Chapman shook his head. 'Yeah, I guess most accidents happen close to home. You nail his ass for that one?'

'Once again, Lola refused to prosecute. Told the doctors in the ER-while Ivan was standing at her bedside-that she'd done it herself. By the time I heard about it through the university and got her down to my office, she was

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