Holiday in Death - J. D. Robb

Holiday in Death

By J. D. Robb

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

— yeats

Nobody shoots at Santa Claus.

— alfred emanuel smith


She dreamed of death.

The dirty red light from the neon sign pulsed against the grimy window like an angry heart. Its flash turned the pools of blood glistening on the floor from dark to bright, dark to bright, slicing the filthy little room into sharp relief, then damning it to shadows.

She huddled in the corner, a bony girl with a tangle of brown hair and huge eyes the color of the whiskey he drank when he had the money for it. Pain and shock had turned those eyes glassy and blind and her skin the waxy gray of corpses. She stared, hypnotized by the blinking light, the way it blipped over the walls, over the floor. Over him.

Him, sprawled on the scarred floor, swimming in his own blood.

Small, feral sounds rumbled in her throat.

And in her hand the knife was gored to the hilt.

He was dead. She knew he was dead. She could smell the ripe, hot stink of it pouring out of him to foul the air. She was a child, only a child, but the animal inside her recognized the scent — both feared it and rejoiced over it.

Her arm was screaming where he’d snapped the bone. The place between her legs burned and wept from this last rape. Not all the blood splattered over her was his.

But he was dead. It was over. She was safe.

Then he turned his head, slowly, like a puppet on a string, and pain washed away in terror.

His eyes fixed on hers as she babbled, scrambled back deeper into the corner where she’d crawled to escape him. And the dead mouth grinned.

You’ll never be rid of me, little girl. I’m part of you. Always. Inside you. Forever. Now Daddy’s going to have to punish you again.

He pushed to his hands and knees. Blood fell in fat, noisy drops from his face, from his back, slid obscenely from the rips in his arms. When he gained his feet and began to shamble through the flow of blood toward her, she screamed.

And screaming, woke.

Eve covered her face with her hands, held one tight over her mouth to hold back the mindless shrieks that tore at her throat like shards of hot glass. Her breath heaved so painfully in her chest she winced with every exhale.

The fear followed her, breathed cold down her spine, but she beat it back. She wasn’t a helpless child any longer, she was a grown woman, a cop who knew how to protect and defend. Even when the victim was herself.

She wasn’t alone in some horrible little hotel room, but in her own house. Roarke’s house. Roarke.

And concentrating on him, on just his name, she began to calm again.

She’d chosen the sleep chair in her home office because he was off planet. She’d never been able to rest in their bed unless he was with her. The dreams came rarely if at all when he slept beside her, and all too often chased her in sleep when he didn’t.

She hated that area of weakness, of dependence, almost as much as she’d come to love the man.

Turning in the chair, she comforted herself by gathering up the fat gray cat who curled beside her, watching her out of narrowed, bi-colored eyes. Galahad was accustomed to her nightmares, but he didn’t care to be wakened by them at four in the morning.

“Sorry,” she muttered as she rubbed her face against his fur. “It’s so damn stupid. He’s dead, and he’s not coming back. The dead don’t come back.” She sighed and stared into the dark. “I ought to know.”

She lived with death, worked with it, waded through it, day after day, night after night. In the final weeks of 2058, guns were banned, and medical science had learned how to prolong life to well beyond the century mark.

And man had yet to stop killing man.

It was her job to stand for the dead.

Rather than risk another trip into nightmares, she ordered the lights on and climbed out of the chair. Her legs were steady enough, and her pulse had leveled to nearly normal. The sick headache that tagged onto the coattails of her nightmares would fade, she reminded herself.

Hoping for an early breakfast, Galahad leaped off behind her, then ribboned through her legs as she moved into the kitchen area.

“Me first, pal.” She programmed