The dual forces of good and evil take center stage in this, the fourth installment in the Jimmy McSwain Files, which finds the tortured, sexy detective battling an unforeseen enemy: happiness. Yet murder will soon rear its desperate chill, hurtling Jimmy into the highest society and the lowest of lives.
Winter is nearly upon Manhattan, the holidays right around the corner. Jimmy is hired to escort the infamous tabloid favorite Serena Carson to a charity benefit, intent on guarding her from an abusive ex. Yet the job takes a brutal turn as Henderson Carlyle, the privileged, spoiled lothario, is found sliced to death outside of Serena’s brownstone. The cops warn Jimmy away from the case, including his former lover, Captain Francis X. Frisano. Jimmy has his hands full anyway, as his visiting cousin Kellan was found beaten by one-time family friend, Mickey Dean, a Hell’s Kitchen thug with a dark past and even darker threat.
As the snow falls and answers remain buried, Jimmy finds himself thrown into the midst of two conflicting cases, one of which will expose a dormant clue to the long unsolved murder of his NYPD cop, Joseph McSwain. Complicating matters is a new man in Jimmy’s life, who promises Jimmy security and safety, neither word easy for him to accept. When fate sends Jimmy’s world into turmoil, he realizes there’s a devil at work in a season usually owned by angels.
The two officers came around the car, cautious but clearly not believing Jimmy represented any kind of threat. They were more interested in what was to be discovered behind him. He stepped away, revealing Henderson Carlyle is all his final glory.
“Oh man, someone didn’t like this guy,” said the lead officer, the driver.
His partner, younger, didn’t look so well. He turned his head quickly and couldn’t speak. The other guy was more seasoned. He took charge.
“McSwain? I’m Officer Malcolm Daniels, he’s Dilson Tejada. You say you stumbled upon this ... guy?”
“No, my friend ... really, a client of mine, she lives here. She came home. Here he was.”
Daniels nodded before taking a step closer to inspect the body. Jimmy watched him wince. Even the most hardened cop had to be affected by this sight.
“CSU is on its way, as are detectives. Glad it’s so early, not many people out yet.”
“I thought about covering it up, then thought better about it,” Jimmy said.
“Protect the crime scene, good thinking. You’re a PI, right?”
Jimmy wasn’t surprised they knew that already. He had identified himself, an easy search of his name would reveal previous associations with the NYPD, good and bad. “Yes. Ms. Carson, upstairs, she hired me to guard her at a charity function tonight.”
“Ah, that would explain the tux. Fanciest PI I ever saw.”
“Her world, not mine.”
Daniels indicated the victim. “What about him? He’s got a tux on too. Sort of.”
“Same function. He had made threats against Ms. Carson. Order of protection.”
“Some guys never learn,” Tejada said. He’d rediscovered the color in his face. “Until they do, the hard way.”
“Where is this Ms. Carson now?”
“Inside. I gave her some brandy, to calm her nerves. She discovered him.”
“Did she do it?” Tejada asked.
Jimmy noticed two pairs of suspicious eyes boring into him, anxious for his answer. “No, I don’t believe so. Someone with a lot of muscle did this.”
“Or anger,” Daniels said. “I’ve seen it. Though not so ...”
He let his comment end there. Jimmy didn’t need to know.
Jimmy was instructed to go back inside the brownstone and remain with Serena until the detectives arrived. Jimmy was glad to excuse himself from the crime scene, skirting the body once again and hoping it was the last he saw of it. Henderson Carlyle’s eyes stared upwards, almost as if they were following Jimmy, trying and failing to tell him who had done this. He closed the door behind him, and the eerie glare was gone. He thought he too could use a shot of brandy. He helped himself to a quick shot, quieting his nerves.
“Jimmy, what’s going to happen?”
Serena was sitting in the dark, still on the sofa, a refilled glass of brandy in her steady hand.
“The police will handle everything. They’ll have some initial questions for you. I’ll suggest they let you get a night’s sleep before taking your full statement. They’ll want to know about your relationship to the deceased, about the order of protection and how he violated it. Tell the detectives everything you know, don’t hold back because one slip up will turn you from victim to suspect.”
“Suspect? He beats me, and I get to take the rap for his murder?”
“People have killed for less,” Jimmy said.
“Besides, I have an alibi,” she said, “I was with that delectable Robbie all night until he gallantly insisted on dropping me off. Henderson was already waiting for me, very much dead on arrival you could say.” She paused, took a dainty sip of her drink, and that’s when the Serena Carson he’d come to know and read about re-emerged from her shell. Her smile took on a wicked bent. “Something tells me you too have an alibi for tonight, Jimmy. Still in your tux but missing the tie. Did the rest of those clothes come off at some point?”
“This isn’t about me,” he said.