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𝐃𝐨𝐦𝐢𝐧𝐨 🁡

Chapter Text

There is something very pretentious about the whole concept of owning a beach house in New York. Deeply ingrained in the collective human mind, there is the idyllic notion that all anyone ever needs in life is love and a cabin with some kind of paradise background. A utopia where the waves roll in, slosh between spread toes, and troubles run out.

The concept of complete freedom associated with living on the beach only holds true for seagulls and other sea creatures that walk the sand. For everyone else, it usually involves spending a lot of cash.

It doesn’t get any more pretentious than having said beach house in the close-gated Sea Gate Community, at the tip of Coney Island.

Veronica Sogni is not a name familiar to most, but in the publishing world, it is a name that carries weight. Not quite enough to be someone who usually runs in his mother’s circles of wealth, but there is no doubt in the profiler’s mind that she had been well off in life. A successful woman who apparently loved her privacy, as the house, only accessible by the stretch of shoreline, is completely hidden by the trees’ foliage. In a secluded, private world such as Sea Gate, the victim seems more inaccessible than everyone else.

“It’s like they built their own private, damn bubble of a kingdom just a stone’s throw away from New York,” JT mutters as he, and all the rest, are forced to sign in their presence as they cross the very literal golden gates.

“Did you even know this place was here?” he asks Gil, letting out a low whistle as he catches sight of the mansions lining the street. One after the other, they seem taken straight from Victorian times. If a golden carriage pulled by shiny white horses passed through them right there and then, no one would have found it strange.

“I’ve heard of this community,” the Lieutenant confesses. He isn’t quite as effusive in his reactions as the younger man, but his eyes are wide and amazed as he looks around. This is how the one percent truly live. “So selective of their members that you practically need to have blue blood to own a place here.”

It is pure coincidence that all three of them stare at Malcolm at the very same time.

“The Miltons own a couple of houses in the gate,” he mumbles, ignoring the weird looks and gaping mouths.

“How many is ‘a couple?’” JT presses on. Even if he and Tally work every single hour of every single day for the rest of their lives, they won’t be able to afford one of the small mansions there.

“I don’t see how that is important,” the profiler pushes through. “The victim’s house is the last one at the end of this street. No entry from the road, we’ll need to go around, through the beach.”

Bright,” Dani calls out, a smirk on her face. It isn’t like the younger man to be embarrassed about his money, not like this. “How many is ‘a couple?’”

Malcolm carefully ignores her. There is no point in explaining that his great-grandfather on his mother's side, George Milton, had been one of the founders of the place. At the time, the houses had been much less expensive and he had a street or two.

The profiler has no idea which of these mansions belong to someone related to him and he couldn’t care less. There is only one house that he is interested in.

The one with a corpse currently inside.

Given the place and circunstances, robbery seems like the most probable cause for her murder, but he hopes for something more exciting than that. After all, the uniforms first on scene had reported a pristine looking house without a single rug out of place.

In fact, if it wasn’t for the publisher’s insistence that Veronica hadn’t died of natural causes, Major Crimes wouldn’t even be there.

As the local police warned, there is no way of getting inside the house from the street. If a house could be antisocial, this one certainly is, sitting there with its tall stone and glass, back turned on the world.

There is a path that circles the house through the right side, straight into the house’s private stretch of beach.

Malcolm watches as Gil and JT miserably struggle—and fail—to keep their shoes sand-free as they make their way towards the crime scene. Dani, on the other hand, trudges through the shifty ground in her boots like it is nothing.

Looking down at his leather shoes, the profiler decides that the best option is to simply take them off now. His socks and shoes go into one hand, leaving the other free to touch, collect natural trinkets of interest.

Malcolm sinks his feet into the cold sand, unable to stop the relaxing feeling that spreads through his body as his toes disappear underneath the light colored grains. Dawn had been a few hours before, but in the shade of the trees, the sand has managed to retain some of the dew from the night.

It’s been too long since the profiler has allowed himself to walk on a beach. He’s forgotten how much more effective it is than a stress ball.

“Going for a swim?” Gil calls out, staring at Malcolm’s naked feet.

The younger man merely smiles smugly, walking past a confused JT and Gil. The waves follow him, even a curious seagull keeps pace until he turns and sand becomes a walkway.

Access to the house is through a set of wooden steps that lead to a patio with a pool and some chairs. “Seems kind of redundant,” Dani comments. She sniggers as she catches sight of both men hopping around on one foot as they try to get the sand out of their shoes, while Malcolm merely brushes the soles of his feet and puts his socks and shoes back on. “Smart,” she adds with a wink.

Malcolm takes a look around while they wait on Gil’s and JT’s battle with the sand. The house has a rustic feeling about it, as one would imagine a beach house.

There aren’t any neighbors snooping around. It’s an odd contrast to their usual locations, where if not for police tape, nosy New Yorkers would invade every crime scene like it’s their own living room.

Veronica’s neighbors either don’t care or are too self-absorbed to notice that a woman has been murdered. Allegedly. Or maybe so many of the houses are rental properties, she doesn’t really have neighbors.

The only ones on scene are the medical examiner, crime lab techs, and the local police.

The first thing that strikes the profiler as he enters the house is how the colors inside perfectly match the ones outside: white sanded walls and green plants everywhere. Either the victim had very good taste or a very expensive home decorator.

The entryway gives way to a small, cozy den. In the corner, Malcolm can see embers still burning inside the iron fireplace. One bookshelf stuffed with books, another visible as he peeks through to the living room.

“Lieutenant Arroyo, welcome!” the local police chief greets them like he is welcoming them to a party. He shakes Gil’s hand, pulling him closer to whisper in his ear, loud enough that everyone else still hears it. “Thank you for coming so fast...we’re not exactly used to this kind of mess around here, you see?”

“Always glad to help a fellow officer, Chief Moran,” the Lieutenant lets out politely. “What can you tell us about the victim?”

The other man scrunches his nose. “The housekeeper found Miss Sogni in her bathtub a couple of hours ago,” he explains, leading the way through the open floor plan towards the victim’s bedroom. “We figured she died this morning, because the body was still kind of warm…”

“She died last night,” Malcolm corrects, pushing past Moran and completely missing his annoyed look at the remark. “Hi, Edrisa,” he greets the petite medical examiner as he spots her inside the bathroom.

She smiles behind her mask, something easy enough to see because her eyes smile along with her lips. “Bright! Hi! And yes, you’re absolutely right, of course,” she agrees, having heard his last words. “The victim’s time of death is somewhere between nine pm and midnight...I’ll know for sure once I’ve had a look at her internal organs.”

“Didn’t you two hear me?” Chief Moran insists, clearly feeling aggravated. “The body was still warm when we found her.”

Malcolm pauses at the doorway of the ensuite bathroom. Veronica had already been taken from the bathtub and laid on the floor beside it. Inside the tub, he can see thin slices of lemons and oranges floating on the clear water like leftover lemonade. Across the tub, there is a wooden tray with an open book resting on top.

He exchanges a knowing look with Edrisa, something they had learned to do in such situations to avoid speaking at the same time. She gives him a subtle nod before returning her attention to the victim. “The body was still warm because the water kept it warm long after the victim died,” the profiler explains. “Then, of course, there is the obvious fact that this was a leisure bath, not a cleansing one, the kind that people take after a long, stressful day before going to sleep.”

Gil tries to hide his smirk. Those kind of details were so obvious that everyone on his team had also caught on to them. There is also the fact that the bed they just walked past was untouched. No one slept there the previous night.

Chief Moran grows a bit red around the ears, wisely choosing to keep quiet. Malcolm isn’t as smart.

“Also, it’s warm today,” he adds, turning his back on the embarrassed man and crouching beside the victim.

“What does that have to do with anything?” Moran can’t help but ask.

Malcolm gives a sideways glance. “The fireplace kept burning through the night after being lit by the victim yesterday night...when it was cold.”

The silence that follows is only broken by the heavy, hurried steps of someone leaving.

“You scared him away,” Dani informs him, mimicking his position by the victim. “Always making friends, aren’t you?”

Malcolm just shrugs. At least he hadn’t punched this one in the face, so... progress. “Did she drown?” he asks the medical examiner.

“As far as I can tell, no,” Edrisa says. “Although I would love to write ‘death by citrine tea’ on my report,” she adds with a snort.

Malcolm is the only one smiling.

“There’s no sign of struggle or violence,” Gil points out, apparently not getting the joke. “Any chance this was due to natural causes? Or suicide?”

Edrisa pulls off her mask, scrunching her nose. “I highly doubt it,” she ponders. “I mean, she could have taken some kind of drug, but we didn’t find any here. Will know more after autopsy.”

“And natural causes?” Dani reminds her. “Maybe a stroke…or a heart condition?”

“The scene is too peaceful,” Malcolm replies before Edrisa can. “There are no water splatter stains around the tub, which means she didn’t struggle. That’s hardly the case when someone dies from an acute condition.” The profiler tilts his head, gazing at the victim’s serene face. “This feels more like she just...fell asleep and never woke up again.”

“Please don’t make a sleeping beauty comment standing over the corpse,” JT begs, his face looking like he sucked on one of the lemons in the victim’s bath.

Malcolm squints his eyes in mock annoyance but doesn’t press the issue. The rest of the team occupied investigating the area near the victim, he slips away to wander through the kitchen and into the connected living and dining rooms. A string of whales hangs in the balance, no water to swim in, aimlessly strung against the wall like they’ve learned to fly. Every phase of the moon hangs on the next wall. A shelf above it is covered in plants and tchokes. The couch is well kept, a collection of pillows setup for show versus being lived in, while a blanket lays nearby as if someone had just crawled out and folded it up. A collage of frames sits behind the couch, yet none of them hold any pictures — there aren’t any mementos that say much about who this woman is.

A bookshelf in the corner draws his attention, the second filled one he’s seen since entering the house. Books could tell him all sorts of things about the victim, making his profile that much more robust. Were they show books to represent a given social status? Deep intellectual non-fiction? Frivolous comedies to bring happiness? Novels reflecting on times past and present? There’s a whole collection to look through and decipher.

The shelf has some semblance of care, its stacks as tidy as the rest of the house, yet they aren’t uniformly organized. Some stand upright, some lay on their sides, others aren’t visible to the daylight. Trinkets sit in between some of them, potentially memories of times past or tokens given as gifts, thanks. None of them have any faces, Veronica’s existence seemingly all the more solitary. Her life lives, lived, between the covers, scattered among the pages.

He sits at the base of the bookshelf, content in his own space to work for a bit while the rest of the team searches the house. First looking for how they’re organized, he finds no grouping by theme, author, or alphabet. Attempting genre as a way to decipher them, he notes her collection holds a little bit of everything. There are several classics — a rule follower in school who enjoyed mandatory readings. She perhaps only truly got to know a few people well, the rest transactional to achieve whatever goal she had. Several pieces of gothic fiction are interspersed, indicative of not being spooked easily and liking a bit of risk-taking. Literary fiction makes up the bulk of the rest, expressing her interest in the human condition. Trying to understand more about the world and how to evolve with it.

The biggest thing her bookshelf tells him is she liked to read a lot. Many of the covers are well-worn, a whole pile of books on the bottom shelf looks ready to fall apart. Some of the books shoved in look newer — he grabs one of them that he recognizes as an author Gil likes. The binding cracks like an aging spine after a long sit in a chair when he opens it, perhaps never opened before. The pages feel new, almost like he can feel the printing under his fingertips as he takes in the fresh book scent. He’ll never be able to replicate that on his iPad.

Fingers curling underneath the book jacket, he runs his thumb back and forth at the bottom of each page. The heavy paper is of standard quality, like that present on most hardbacks, and the familiar texture is soothing, calming. A piece of paper rests between the pages near the back. Nestled in his private space beside the bookshelf, the book’s weight increases, drooping toward his lap until he drifts off.