Dark in death, p.11
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       Dark in Death, p.11

         Part #46 of In Death series by J. D. Robb

  DeLano’s mother, Eve concluded, as the resemblance, despite the age difference, was strong. The mother might have gone boldly red with a short, sculpted cap of hair, but the eyes, the shape of the mouth, the line of the chin, she’d passed down to her daughter.

  “Lieutenant Dallas, Detective Peabody.” Brooklyn rang in her cheerful voice. “I recognized you.” She grabbed Eve’s hand to shake, used it to pull her inside while she gestured Peabody in. “I’ve seen the Icove vid three times. I’m really rooting for it next month.”

  “Next month?”

  “The Oscars. You’re going, aren’t you? I hope you’re going. What an experience. And listen to me, blathering on when you must be here to see Blaine. I talked her into going up to her office to write, take her mind off things. She’s so upset about that poor girl. Come in, sit. I’ve got the fire on. Spring can’t come soon enough.”

  She led them out of the wide foyer with its vase of fragrant lilies on a glossy table, its big oval mirror and pretty, girlie chairs, into a spacious living area where a fire snapped in a hearth of dark gray brick flanked by tall white cabinets. On the mantel over the hearth stood more flowers, candles, and a large painting of what Eve thought might be tulips.

  Lacy curtains fussed at the windows that let winter light slide inside in frilly patterns. Soft throws draped artistically over the backs of facing sofas, while the pillows Eve assumed women loved simply because lined the seats.

  “Let me take your coats, and you make yourselves at home while I get Blaine.”

  “Thanks. We’d like to speak with you, too, Mrs. DeLano.”

  “Audrey, please. And I’ll confess, I’d be thrilled to be interviewed by Dallas and Peabody. I know it’s a terrible situation, but if there’s a silver lining, you should find it. I’ll go get Blaine.”

  She carted off the coats, steps brisk in her house skids.

  “This is a really nice house,” Peabody commented as she wandered around. “I really like this room. It’s girlie, but it’s comfortable girlie.”

  She sat in one of the occasional chairs, snugged her butt in. “Really comfortable, and it smells really good.”

  Eve scanned the photos on the cabinet shelves. Family shots, generational. Baby pictures, little girls, young women, mothers and daughters—some men sprinkled in. One of Audrey, Blaine, and two teenage girls—Heather and Piper, Eve remembered.

  Photos, some books, lots of pretty, useless things.

  She turned when she heard footsteps.

  DeLano had changed since her morning visit to Central and now wore baggy gray pants, a hip-length blue sweater with a kangaroo pocket, and house booties designed to keep the feet warm.

  “I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon,” she began, “or see you. I hope it means you’ve broken the case, or that, at least, found some way I can help.”

  “We have some angles.”

  “My mother said you wanted to speak with her as well. She’s excited about that.” DeLano let out a short laugh, sat on one of the sofas. “She’s followed your work closely since Nadine’s book. She’s just getting coffee—she likes to fuss, as we don’t get many visitors during the work-week. At least not until the girls, and often some of their friends, charge in from school.”

  “How soon will that be?”

  “The coffee?”

  “Your daughters. When do you expect them home?”

  “Oh, I …” She looked at her wrist, laughed. “No wrist unit. I don’t pay attention to the time when I’m working. What time is it?”

  “Three-ten,” Peabody told her.

  “Really? I lose track. Shortly then. If you want them out of the way, I can just—”

  “Actually, we’d like to speak with them. With all of you.”

  “Oh.” A worry line dug in between her eyebrows. “I haven’t spoken to them yet about any of this. They’ve been in school.”

  “If you’d like time for that, we can wait.”

  “No, I … No,” DeLano said more firmly. “They’re tough and they’re sensible. We can explain it all to them together. Just, can you tell me, should I be concerned for their safety?”

  “I don’t think there’s any cause to be overly concerned at this time. But we’ll talk about that.”

  Audrey carried in a loaded tray. Peabody jumped up to take it.

  “Let me help you.”

  “I’m strong as an ox, but you’re a good girl. Just on the table there. Sweetie, the girls will be home in a few minutes. Do you want me to steer them off?”

  “The lieutenant wants to talk to them, too.”

  Mother and daughter exchanged a look. Audrey sat, patted DeLano’s knee. “Well, we’re in this, and everything else, together.”

  DeLano tipped her head to her mother’s shoulder. “Always.”


  Audrey gave her daughter a quick pat on the leg, then shifted to pour the coffee. “Two black—that’s Lieutenant Dallas and me. Two coffee regulars for Detective Peabody and Blaine. And I hope you’ll try my sugar and spice cookies. They’re a favorite around here.”

  After she passed around coffee and cookies, Audrey sat back. “Now, what do you need from us?”

  “Peabody, photos. I’d like you to look at the photos,” Eve told them.

  Mother and daughter huddled together, studied the photos.

  “The same person?” DeLano asked. “Brother and sister? It’s hard to see much of either face.”

  “Same person,” Eve confirmed. “And at this time the prime suspect in Chanel Rylan’s murder.”

  “You can’t see the eyes,” DeLano murmured. “Or the features very clearly. Still, I think if this was someone I knew well, it would click. But it doesn’t. I’m sorry.”

  “It’s a woman, isn’t it? At first glance—well, even at a second good look—you assume this one here is a man. But when you see them together like this … You’re looking for a woman?”

  “We believe the unsub is female,” Eve said. “And presents herself as the character in the specific murder scene, as written. A woman for the first, a man in this case. This individual clearly selected, studied, and stalked both victims. Very likely selected them from others considered and settled on them because they best represented the victims in the books.”

  “It’s more about the books, that’s what you’re saying, than about the women who were killed.”

  “It’s more about the books,” Eve agreed. “Which means it’s more about you.”

  Eve heard the voices—female—the clatter of footsteps coming from the back of the house.

  “The girls.” DeLano squeezed her mother’s hand, got to her feet as the voices—obviously in the heated rush of an argument—ebbed and flowed.

  DeLano walked to the foyer. “Heather, Piper! Grand and I are in the living room.”

  The voices continued.

  “I so did not give Brady Mishner the sexy eyes.”

  “You so did. With the hair-flip combo!”

  “Cut it out!”

  “Brady, Brady!” Kissy noises followed.

  “You’re such a wheeze, Piper.” Sounds of a scuffle followed.

  Two voices, as one, whined: “Mom!”

  “Girls, we have company. Pretend to be civilized.”

  As the girls stepped up, DeLano hooked an arm around each of their necks—a kind of affectionate double headlock—and drew them into the room.

  The one on the right topped her mother’s height by about an inch, had a long mane of dark blond hair with a couple of bright blue braids worked through it. Startlingly pretty, she wore skinny pants that swirled with color, a sweater that matched the braids, and may or may not have given some boy named Brady the sexy eye–hair flip combo.

  The one on the left had the look of a clever, potentially devious elf. The top of her head came to her mother’s cheekbone, and she studied Eve out of long green eyes that tipped up at the corners. She wore her brown, streaked-with-pink hair pixie short, and had on baggies with a sweatshirt t
hat claimed GIRLS ROCK AND RULE on a compact frame.

  She may or may not have been a wheeze.

  “I know who you are,” Piper said, and looked up at her mother. “Who got killed?”

  “No one you know. Lieutenant Dallas, Detective Peabody, my daughters, Heather and Piper. Sit down, girls.”

  They sat on the sofa, immediately went from squabbling siblings to a unit. All four females ranged themselves together.

  “I went to see the lieutenant and the detective this morning because a woman was killed last night. She was stabbed with an ice pick while watching a vid in a theater in Times Square.”

  “Like in your book,” Piper said, those odd elf eyes direct on Eve’s face.

  “Yes, and there was a murder last month of a licensed companion, and it was like one of my books.”

  “That’s awful.” Heather snuggled closer to her mother. “Mom, that’s awful.”

  “It’s sick plagiarism.”

  “Piper.” Heather shot out an elbow, slickly evaded by its target. “It’s not a joke.”

  “I’m not joking. Somebody’s copying Mom’s books to kill people. Sick plagiarism. Do you have a suspect?”

  Does the kid ever blink? Eve wondered.

  “I’m here to ask the questions. Has anyone approached either of you asking questions about your mother or her work?”

  “Just the usual.” Heather took the lead. “Sometimes one of the teachers or one of the other parents asks when a new book’s coming out, or they want us to ask Mom to come talk to a class or their group. She doesn’t much do that.”

  “Because she’s working,” Piper … piped up. “And some people just don’t get it.”

  Closed ranks, Eve observed.

  Girls rock and rule.

  “Have you noticed anyone around the neighborhood you felt didn’t belong?”

  The sisters looked at each other, shook their heads.


  Peabody pulled out the photos again. “Have you seen this person?”

  “You can’t see the faces, really. Are they the suspects?” Heather asked.

  “Not they,” Piper corrected. “Her. I’ve seen her.”

  “Don’t make things up.” Elbow jab.

  “I’m not.” Return jab. “She was wearing those dopey goggles and the lame-o hat from the other picture. And that coat. The goofy one.” Piper closed those eerie eyes. “She had a scarf, too, but not the one in the picture. I think it was black-and-white. I think.”

  “Where did you see her?”

  “It was before Christmas. Remember we went on the stocking-stuffer hunt, then had dinner at Angelo’s? We walked.” She shifted to look directly at Eve. “The shops are only a few blocks away, and with the stocking-stuffer hunt, everything’s small, so no prob with big, heavy bags. And we kind of spread out so everybody doesn’t see what everybody else is buying. I saw her in City Kitchen when I was buying those spice bags for Grand, and I found those sugar spoons, too, for Mom’s coffee.”

  “Did she approach you?” Eve demanded.

  “Nuh-uh. Then we went into … At Your Leisure, and I got Heather those frilly socks, and I spotted Mom going gooey over this robe with blue checks, but she didn’t buy it. So I told Heather and we went back and bought it for her for Christmas.”

  Piper looked up at her mother. “That was a good surprise.”

  “It was a really good surprise.”

  “Anyway. She—the woman in the goofy coat—was poking around in there, too. I didn’t pay much attention because a lot of people were shopping like we were.”

  “It was like, two months ago,” Heather began. “You can’t be sure you remember, especially since you can hardly see anything in these pictures.”

  “I see what I see.” Piper gave her sister—yeah, that could be termed a sexy eye—and mimed a hair flip.

  She earned an elbow jab, but it was half-hearted, and Heather snickered with it.

  “Do you remember the date?” Eve asked.

  “It would’ve been the Saturday before Christmas,” Blaine supplied. “We always bake cookies in the morning and afternoon, then do the shopping hunt, end the day with pizza at Angelo’s.”

  “You and Grand split a bottle of wine,” Piper added. “And got giggly on the walk home.”

  “Our family elephant,” Audrey commented. “She never forgets.”

  “Have you seen her since?”

  “I don’t think so. The goggles are mega lame-o, so I’d remember them. Britta Gleason has a pair almost like them, and she gets pissy when I tell her they make her look goon.”


  “Sorry.” She hunched her shoulders at her grandmother’s rebuke. “She gets annoyed when I tell her she looks goon.”

  “She does look goon,” Heather agreed. “Piper does notice things.”

  “I observe. I’m going to be a writer like Mom, so I observe. She had a shopping bag! She had a shopping bag from Artie’s. We were in there, too, so that’s three places we were she was—that I noticed.”

  “Is she going to try to hurt Mom?”

  “Heather, sweetie.” DeLano cuddled her daughter closer. “Of course not.”

  “I’m going to be straight. You’ve got good security. Use it. You’ve got good eyes,” Eve said to Piper. “Keep using them. If you see this person again, do not approach. Don’t screw around. Contact the police—local, then me.”

  “You don’t … You don’t think she’d go after my children.”

  “I think this woman has an unhealthy obsession with you and your books. I think through that obsession she’s killed two people, and I’m damn sure she plans to follow that up by re-creating the scene from your next book. She’s focused on the scenes, the characters, but she’s been close enough for your daughter to identify her as trailing you through local shops.”

  “Should I keep them home from school?”

  Eve dampened Piper’s instant grin with a head shake. “Not necessary. How do they get to and from school?”

  “It’s walking distance. In bad weather we have a carpool system.”

  “Talk to the car pool participants, talk to the school. They should be aware. I’m going to speak to your local police, request regular drive-bys, and make sure they’re aware of the situation. Use common sense. Don’t let anyone into the house you don’t know. If somebody comes to the door saying you’ve got a gas leak—verify with the gas company. If somebody claims they’ve had an accident or uses any ploy to try to get you to open the door, it’s nine-one-one.”

  “I’ve reached third kup in tae kwon do.”

  Eve gave Piper a respectful nod. “Blue belt, red tag. Nice. I’m fifth dan, currently studying with a grand master, and I’m telling you: Don’t screw around.”

  “She won’t.” The steel in Audrey’s voice resonated. “None of us will.”

  “Good. Peabody, cards.”

  Rising, Peabody took out contact cards, handed them out. “It’s good you know how to defend yourself,” she said to Piper. “And your family. Contacting the police is another form of defense.”

  “I got it. Heather’s fast. Really fast. She’s lettered in track and field, and cross-country. Running’s a defense, too.”

  “That’s exactly right.”

  “We’ll stick together, right, Mom? Right, Grand?” Heather took her mother’s hand, her sister’s. “It’s what we do.”

  “Meanwhile, I want your fan mail as soon as possible.”

  “Oh, I’ve got that for you.” Audrey stood up. “I’ve got all the e-mail on a disc—most comes that way. But I made copies of everything else. I’ll get it for you now.”

  Outside, Peabody glanced back at the house as they walked to the car. “It’s a solid family. Serious girl power.”

  “Not a pushover among them. Contact local PSD, walk them through it. We’ll go show the photos through these shops the kid talked about. Not much chance anybody’s going to remember like she did, but we could hit a streak of luck.

  Eve got behind the wheel. “That’s not the household of a woman who let herself be bullied, let herself be subjugated.”

  “I guess sometimes it takes a punch in the face to shake out the inner strength.”

  “I guess it does. After the shops, I’m going to dump you at Central. You can take the photos to Yancy, though I don’t know what even the genius of police artists can do with them. There’s no point in you going all the way to Queens to interview Jefferson, and I’ll work at home after that.”

  They not only didn’t have a streak of luck, they didn’t manage so much as a sputter—and no store security that kept the feed longer than forty-eight hours.

  As traffic thickened on the drive back to Manhattan, Eve braced herself for a long, ugly slog to Queens.

  She passed the disc from Audrey to Peabody, ordered her partner to copy and send to her home unit, and started the slog.

  Blasting ad blimps, farting maxibuses, a bike messenger with an obvious death wish, cross streets clogged with delivery vans, crosswalks clogged with pedestrians who appeared oblivious to the meaning of Walk/Don’t Walk signals, cabs, cars, blaring horns, and an underlying rumble of simmering anger slapped together to form New York at rush hour.

  Though why some idiot termed it rush hour when it was crawl hour, Eve would never know.

  A waste of time talking to Craig Jefferson, she knew it in her bones, but it had to be done. And though she was tempted to wait—to just go home to the quiet—and come up with a ploy to get him into Central the next day, she wanted to see him at home. She wanted to observe his dynamic with his wife.

  She soothed herself with coffee from the in-dash AC, and finished the slog.

  Another decent neighborhood, she noted, maybe glossier than Blaine’s, but Jefferson’s house couldn’t boast a corner lot. A newer structure, she noticed. Smaller, but … shinier, a two-story painted sleek white, with a short, one-story leg of nearly all glass.

  Decent security, she judged, and this time the computer answered her buzz.

  Good evening. Please state your name and the purpose of your visit.

  “Dallas, Lieutenant Eve, NYPSD.” She held up her badge for scanning and verification. “I need to speak with Craig Jefferson.”

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