Dark in death, p.10
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       Dark in Death, p.10
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         Part #46 of In Death series by J. D. Robb

  Eve continued to face Jessilyn, just held up a hand to stop David if he tried to come back.

  “It’s not meant to be funny, and murder is usually ugly.”

  “Stop it. Just stop it.”

  “You and Chanel were competing for this part.”

  “Stop it. I want you to stop this right now.”

  Eve took out her badge. “Look at this. I’m with the NYPSD. I’m investigating the murder of Chanel Rylan. I need you to answer some questions.”

  “This isn’t—I can’t—But …” She pressed a hand to her mouth, sucked air through her fingers. “They knew. They knew, and didn’t tell me. They … I get it.” Closing her eyes, she rocked in her chair. “I get it. The show must go on. I get it. Chanel gets it. We all get it. Oh God, what happened to her? What happened?”

  “She was stabbed.”

  Tears glimmered, shimmered, spilled. “A mugging?”

  “If you’d answer the questions. Tell me where you were last night, from five to seven.”

  “Where I … I’d kill her for a part? Is that what you think?”

  “Can you tell me?”

  “God. God. I … I went to my friend’s dance studio after work. Wait.”

  As tears continued to leak, she pressed her fingers to her eyes, took several hitching breaths.

  Lowering her hands, she gripped them tightly in her lap.

  “I worked from eleven to six—I bartend at Sylvia’s. I went to Missy’s studio. I—I picked up some Chinese on the way, at ah, oh Jesus, at the Brass Gong. I waited until she’d finished her last class. She ran lines with me for today, and I rehearsed the number, she helped me with the dance. We went out for one drink after, then I went home to get a solid eight hours—to be fresh for today.”

  She paused again, struggling. “To be fresh, to be my best because I was going up against Chanel. I was with Missy—and Hank came into the studio for about an hour. I was there from like, six-fifteen, six-thirty until ten, I guess. And we had a drink back at Sylvia’s before I went home.”

  “All right. I’d like the contact information for your friends.”

  “Chanel was my friend, too.” The words blurred on a sob. “Not like Missy and Hank, but a friend. We were up for this part, and we’ve been up against each other for others. Sometimes I got it, sometimes she got it. Sometimes we both washed out. I wanted this one bad, that’s no secret. It would’ve crushed me to lose out, but you get used to being crushed or you go back to Wisconsin and do community theater.

  “Lola! Her roommate, her person is Lola, like Missy’s mine, and I can’t remember her last name. Does Lola know?”

  “Yes. Did you socialize with Chanel?”

  “Sure. Sure, we hung plenty.” She swiped at tears with her hands. “We’re theater people. You hang together or you hang separately. I’ve got better pipes, she has better pins. If one of us had a part, the other sometimes helped in practice—voice for me, dance for her. She dated my ex-boyfriend before he was my boyfriend.”

  She stared up at the empty stage.

  “When we got this callback, we made a pact. It wasn’t easy because we both really wanted it, but we made a pact. Whichever of us got it, the other would pitch in. I’d work with her on the songs, she’d work with me on the choreography.”

  Eve guided her through a few more questions, took the contact information.

  “Do you think I should get in touch with Lola? I don’t know if she’d want to talk to me. I got the part.”

  “Would you have kept the pact?”

  “Yeah, sure. Chanel would have kept it, too. It wasn’t our first pact.”

  “That’s your answer, isn’t it?”

  She bought Peabody a glide-cart lunch, indulged in her own loaded dog washed down with Pepsi. You might as well drink battery acid as cart coffee, in her opinion.

  From there they headed back downtown to talk to the street hookers, the beat cops, the LC trainers and certifiers, the useless desk clerk at the flop. They spent two hours recrossing her detectives’ boot prints, and couldn’t shake out anything fresh.

  Still Eve circled back again to the sad little room where Rosie Kent died.

  A single bed with a lumpy mattress covered with questionable sheets. It wasn’t meant for sleeping, after all. A closet-size bathroom with a pitted wall-hung sink, a toilet no one in their right mind would plop their ass on, a spotty mirror.

  Ceiling light in the bedroom, no lamp. A small table that wobbled, no dresser. Bare floors, a window that leaked in cold air and walls of sickly gray. A key-operated time clock hung beside the door. The LC keyed in the time allotted, and when it ran out, the clock buzzed.

  The hall door locked from the inside, but could be bypassed with a standard master.

  “They may have settled on the deal, the details, on the street, but it’s January, it’s cold. It’s time to party, so she says let’s go. Details are worked out as they head to the flop. How much time, the standard fee.

  “With this settled, she logs in downstairs, takes the key. They walk up. She brings him/her in, locks the door, keys in the time. Puts the key on the table there. She’s new, maybe she gives him some sex talk, puts on some moves. It’s an adventure, and she’s in charge. She thinks she’s in charge.”

  But she’s not, Eve thought. It’s a scene that’s played out countless times in this sad room. But this time, the killer had written a lethal ending.

  “He’s brought a bottle with him, wants to have a drink, relax first. Fine with her, she gets paid whatever they do. Can’t drink out of the bottle, can’t drink from the same bottle or they’d both pass out. So he has to have a glass for her. At least one glass, maybe two. A case? A briefcase? A purse?”

  Eve circled the room. “Go freshen up a little for me—that’s one way to get her into the bathroom so he can add the tranq to her glass. He’s got both glasses when she comes back, hands her the doctored one. Maybe he pretends he’s nervous, maybe he asks her to start to undress while they have the wine.”

  Easy to imagine it, Eve mused, easy to see it. Unless you’re inside the scene, and think you’re in charge.

  “She’s the center of attention. She likes it. Does her little striptease, tries to do the sexy while she drinks. It takes a few minutes for the tranq to start to kick in. A little dizzy, a little off. Sweepers didn’t find any wine spilled in here, so he doesn’t let her drop the glass. Maybe he gets a little more in her before he puts her down.”

  “She’s new at it,” Peabody added. “Anyone experienced would have tried to bolt, would have struggled the minute she felt off. But there wasn’t any sign of a struggle.”

  “No, she was easy pickings. He just led her to the bed. Time to lie down, sure, lie down, and let me do what I do. Take the rest of her clothes off, watch her go under. Get the sash out of that briefcase or purse or bag. Here’s the moment. Does he call her by the character’s name? I bet he does. She does, because whatever gender the killer is, for this scene it’s a woman who wraps the sash around Pryor’s neck. A woman who pulls it tight, tighter, watches the eyes flutter and roll, the struggle of the body for air, hears that last choked breath expel. A woman who tests the pulse to be sure the heart’s stopped beating, then ties the pretty bow, angles it.

  “Then it’s just get the glasses, cap the bottle, fold the clothes neat just like in the book. Unlock the door, peek out to be sure no one’s around. Walk out, walk away.”

  “And scene,” Peabody murmured.

  “What?”

  “It’s what they say.”

  “It’s all about the scene. He might have been a man under it, but for this scene, for this killing, he posed as female. Rosie, like Pryor in the book, was certified for either, so the killer dressed as a woman, either way. The killer bought her as a woman, and killed her as a woman. That’s the fresh here. That’s the new angle.”

  “If that’s true, the killer came to the vids as a man.”

  “That’s right. It’s what plays through. It’s
the scene reenacted.”

  A scene, she thought as she circled the room, reenacted on a sad, ugly stage.

  Maybe that made it more real to the killer.

  “It’s not that hard to pose either way,” Eve continued, “but it’s unlikely we’re talking about a big guy. Even world-weary LCs are likely to notice an unusually large woman trolling for action. Average to small build likely as a male killer, average to tall build as a female. That’s basic probability. Maybe a wig for this. The sweepers didn’t find any fibers or hair, but maybe.”

  “A female dressed as a male for the vids is also possible,” Peabody put in. “If so, she’s unlikely to be busty, curvy. Could’ve kept outdoor gear on, but it’s still noticeable if you’re, you know, zaftig. Anyway, it’s generally easier for a woman to pass as a man than the other way. And for the vids, you could just wear regular unisex clothes. The man’s in your head, right?”

  “That’s just right. The point is the killer has to, and is capable of, sliding into the role. But it’s not theater. It’s his or her personal reality.”

  Eve turned one more circle. “Let’s get out of this dump. I want to write this up, send it to Mira. And we’re going to start looking at DeLano’s communications with an eye for one person who can play a lot of parts.”

  Back at Central, Eve called Jenkinson and Reineke into her office to update them.

  “What’d we miss?” Reineke asked her.

  “You didn’t miss anything. We’ve got new information, new lines, and a new theory. Rosie Kent wasn’t a one-shot or the start of a serial in the traditional sense.”

  She ran it through for them as she added Kent to her board.

  “So we’re after a whacko who’s living inside a book?” Jenkinson frowned over it. “Maybe a tranny, a cross-dresser.”

  “Possible, but it’s not about the lifestyle. It’s about the scene, and re-creating it as closely as possible. So for Kent’s murder, we’re looking for a female—for Rylan’s, a man. That’s how the killer saw himself, that’s how he approached it, and how he presented.”

  “What’s the why?” Reineke muttered. “What’s the frigging point?”

  “DeLano’s going to be the point, or the books, or a combination. The vics—including the one coming up next in the books—are female. The creator of the scenes is female, the detective in the books is female. That’s going to play in. When DeLano divorced, she moved in with her mother. She has two daughters. That’s a lot of females, and it has to factor in.”

  “How about DeLano’s ex?”

  Eve nodded at Reineke. “I’m going to take a hard look there, but he doesn’t fit the profile—I’ll send that to you. Add that these are complex, detail-oriented killings, and he’s mostly a domineering asshole with violent spurts. My sense, at this point, is his dick’s too important for him to pose as female.”

  “He timed it good, with Kent.” Jenkinson studied the board. “Picked her up right after she came out for the night. We figured either he got real lucky, and luck’s mostly bullshit, or he’d scoped her out before, maybe even bought her before. Now you’ve gotta figure it didn’t have jack to do with luck. We can go back, talk to the working girls and boys again. Any of them been on the stroll awhile would spot a cross-dresser or tranny, even somebody pretending to be.”

  “It wouldn’t hurt, but it’s possible—and how I’d play it—the killer did the scoping as whatever the hell sex he was born with. And if that’s male, geared up for the kill, not before.”

  “We’ll play it out anyway. It’s pissing me off now.” Jenkinson took one last hard look at the board. “Yeah, it’s pissing me off. Let’s hit the streets, partner.”

  Alone, Eve grabbed coffee, sat, wrote up a report for Mira.

  She took time to run some probabilities, chewed them over. Dissatisfied, she brought the security footage from the vid palace up on her screen, ran through it. Slowed the speed, picked through it.

  She watched Chanel and Lola cross to the concession stand, chatting, chatting. Chanel pulled off her hat, shook out her hair, laughed at something Lola said.

  Eve studied people who filed into line behind them, a couple of teenage boys, another couple she judged to be on a date.

  She toggled to the snack area, the tables, studied every face. Toggled back, followed Chanel’s progress toward the theaters, with her popcorn and soft drink.

  The teenage boys headed in the same direction—two jumbo corns, two jumbo drinks, assorted candy. She spotted the student she’d interviewed on scene, watched a few others—no solos.

  Sat back, drummed her fingers. Then ordered the feed to start thirty minutes earlier.

  People coming and going, a matinee letting out—kids show, she had to figure by the number of children and exhausted-looking adults herding them.

  A full twenty minutes before the victim and her roommate entered, Eve felt a little buzz.

  A solo, wearing sunshades, and something about the way he—the stride, the boots, the long, bulky coat read male—checked his wrist unit, turned his head as if checking the lobby area for someone, seemed studied to her.

  No hair showing with the thick, dark cap pulled low on the forehead. No clear view of the face, with the cap, the shades, and the scarf bundled around the neck, skimming over the chin.

  No bag, she noted, but deep pockets in the coat.

  Another check of the wrist unit—a chunky, mannish one. Gloves on the hands. An impatient shrug before he marched across the lobby, head down, face averted, and disappeared into the corridor that led to the theaters.

  She ran it back, stopped on the best angle of the face, zoomed. Caucasian, she determined. Hard to judge the age, she thought, but if she had to guess, between thirty and fifty. About five feet, seven inches in height, and no way of knowing if there were lifts in the boots. Medium build, say a hundred-fifty—but, again, no way to know what was under the coat.

  She zipped it forward to TOD, slowed it again. When the first show let out, she slowed it more, worked her way through the crowd looking for the dark coat, the cap, the body type.

  She kept it running after the first responders arrived, after alarm spread on faces and body language in the lobby.

  Ran it back again, picked through again.

  And there, she thought. There you are.

  Still studying, she hit her interoffice comm, snapped, “Peabody!”

  Changed the coat, she thought. It’s reversible—that’s thinking of the details. Pale gray now with weird little penguins all over it. And the cap, changed to an earflap with pom-poms on dangles at the sides.

  Same boots, same trousers—can’t change everything.

  Playing it up, Eve observed. You know where the cameras are, so you keep your face angled just enough. And you’re laughing, like you’re with the people around you, while you pull on those stupid pink-lensed wind goggles.

  “Sir!” Peabody rushed in.

  “What do you see?” Eve tapped her screen.

  “Ah, female, Caucasian, probably. About, um, five-six. Maybe five-seven, on the heavy side at like, a buck-sixty. Long winter coat, gray with black-and-white penguins. Winter cap, earflaps, long ties with pom-poms. Dark scarf, wind goggles with pink lenses.”

  Eve ordered the feed to cue to the first stop point.

  “What do you see?” she repeated.

  “Okay, male, Caucasian. Like, ah, five-seven, five-eight? Medium build. Long, dark winter coat, dark cap and scarf, sunshades, dark lenses.”

  “Split screen,” Eve ordered. “Now?”

  “Well, they …” Peabody jerked back, then leaned in. “The same damn boots. The same pants. There’s a height difference, maybe. I don’t think that’s cam angle, but … The cut of the coat, that’s the same, too. Reversible. Take a minute, turn it inside out, retie the scarf. The cap, it could be the same one, too, turn it inside out, pull down the flaps and ties. Yank out the lifts. Switch the shades for the goggles.”

  “What do you conclude?”

&n
bsp; “I conclude I’m looking at the killer, and the killer’s female. You can get more height with lifts, but you can’t shrink—without removing lifts. The coat adds bulk, and she could easily add more under it, so she may not be as heavy as she looks here. No hair showing, no eye color, and we can only get a partial on the face. Hell, we can’t get a clear view of the ears or eyebrows, but I see a woman.”

  Eve pushed up, gestured. “Get me hard copies, full body, close-up on the faces.”

  She stalked over to her window, scowled out. “Send them to Reineke and Jenkinson. They can show them around. She didn’t look like that for the Kent murder, but you’ve got to try. I looked at the feed last night. I didn’t catch it.”

  “You weren’t looking for the transformation. McNab and I looked at it, too.”

  “I didn’t go back far enough. She came in a solid twenty minutes before the victim. Came in, settled in while they were still having a pre-vid drink. Then she just had to shift her seat when they came in, sit down behind Rylan. Sit in the back until, that’s what I’d do. Sit, wait, watch. Maybe slip in behind Rylan after the movie starts.”

  She turned back. “Why bother to change the look to leave? Is it, what, a flourish? For fun?”

  “Plot twist? It’s a story for her. Her story, but a story. So, come in as a man, kill the character as a man, leave as a woman. Plot twist.”

  “Plot twist.” Eve grabbed her coat. “Let’s go see the writer.”

  Blaine DeLano lived with her family in a settled Brooklyn neighborhood with rejuvenated old houses, heavy on the brick. A place of sidewalks, financial security, good schools and restaurants.

  DeLano’s corner-lot three story had a narrow garden area in the front and a covered portico over the front entrance, with a small, attached garage on the side-street end.

  Window boxes holding some sort of purplish cabbagey-looking plants added a female sensibility.

  Top-flight security, Eve noticed, which showed the females inside had sense as well.

  Eve pressed the buzzer expecting the security comp to quiz her. But the door opened in seconds.

 
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