Dark in death, p.12
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       Dark in Death, p.12

         Part #46 of In Death series by J. D. Robb
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  One moment please …

  It took more than a moment—long enough Eve considered buzzing again. Then the door opened.

  She recognized Jefferson’s wife from her ID shot, just as she recognized the anxious look in her eyes. She wore a dark blue sweater with subtle swirls of silver threads worked through and pants that matched the threading. She’d swept her hair back with some sort of blue and silver clips. Maybe to show off the silver studs in her ears.

  The coordinated outfit—down to the short silver boots with the little navy heels—the carefully made-up face, the perfectly groomed hair made Eve think: Camera ready.

  Or demanding, overbearing-husband ready.

  “Mrs. Jefferson.”

  “Yes, I’m Mattie Jefferson. How can I help you?”

  “Lieutenant Dallas, NYPSD. I’d like to speak with Craig Jefferson.”

  “My husband’s only just gotten home from work,” Mattie began.

  “That’s good timing, isn’t it? Can I come in? You’re letting in a lot of cold air.”

  Obviously flustered, Mattie stepped back. Eve used the fluster and the space to step in, shut the door at her back. A movement had her glancing up.

  A boy—Craig Junior, age eight, according to his official records—stood at the top of the stairs, arms folded. Like his mother, he wore a coordinated outfit. In his case, a navy-and-red-striped shirt with a navy sweater vest over it, navy pants.

  And a glowering expression.

  Eve hadn’t known an eight-year-old could pull off that expert a glower. He must have practiced.

  “Mummy,” he said in affected, superior tones, “who’s at the door?”

  “Someone to see Papa. You should finish your homework, C.J.”

  “I have finished it.” His snarly tone clearly implied: You idiot. “Papa doesn’t like strangers in the house.”

  “I’m a cop, kid.”

  He came down two steps, used his superior elevation to look down his snotty little nose at her. “Do you have a warrant to enter?”

  Eve gave him a hard, thin smile. “Want me to get one?”

  “C.J., just wait in your room, please.”

  The kid barely suffered her a glance, and didn’t budge.

  “If you’ll wait here, I’ll get my husband.”

  She hurried off.

  “My papa can make you leave. This is his house.”

  Intimidating kids wasn’t her usual course of action, but for this one, she made an exception. She took out her badge again, in a way that shifted her coat and jacket back enough to give the little shithead a glimpse of her weapon.

  “This is my badge. That means, if your father doesn’t want to talk to me here, I’ll leave. And get a warrant that obliges him to talk to me in my house. That would be Cop Central. I wonder which he’d rather.”

  An angry flush rose up on the boy’s face. He fisted his hands at his sides, came down two more steps. “He doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want. You can’t make him. You’re just a girl.”

  “So’s more than half the world’s population. You’re outnumbered.”

  She shifted, looked down the hall as Craig Jefferson strode toward her wearing a gray business suit and an annoyed expression.

  “Just what’s this about?” he demanded.

  “She called me a bad name!” The kid raced to his father. “And she said she was going to stun me with her weapon.”

  “Seriously?” Eve might have laughed, but Jefferson took a menacing step forward. “If you lay hands on me, sir, I’ll have to take you in for assaulting an officer.”

  “You threatened my son!”

  “I did no such thing. Recorder.” She tapped her lapel. “Engaged. Would you like me to order a replay?”

  “I don’t like her! Make her go away!”

  Ignoring the boy, Eve kept focused on Jefferson. “I expect to take up about ten minutes of your time here and now. If you refuse to speak to me, here and now, I will make arrangements for you to be brought into Cop Central. My questioning there is likely to take longer than ten minutes. So now or later, simple or complicated, Mr. Jefferson. It’s up to you.”

  “I demand to know what this is about.”

  “It involves your ex-wife.”

  “I should have known.” Disgust echoed through his voice. “C.J., go upstairs.”

  “I want to stay with you, Papa.”

  “Upstairs,” Jefferson repeated, but patted the top of the boy’s head.

  The kid took two steps, and Eve read his intent in his eyes. She danced back, avoiding an angry kick in the shins. The miss and momentum had the boy skidding back. He’d have fallen on his ass—a moment Eve would have enjoyed—but his father reached out, steadied him.

  “Upstairs,” Jefferson repeated, adding a light ass swat. One that Eve interpreted as a congratulatory ass pat.

  The boy stomped up the steps, pausing only to shoot Eve his middle finger behind his father’s back.

  “Mattie!” Jefferson bellowed. “I left my drink in my den!” Then he turned into the living area.

  The furnishings coordinated as meticulously as the outfits of the residents, and every inch shined clean and stood ruthlessly organized.

  Eve imagined if a dust mote tried to sneak in for a visit, it would be eradicated in seconds.

  “Ten minutes.” Jefferson sat in a chair with wide, masculine arms. Eve chose the (pillow-free) sofa. “What has Blaine done?”

  “Ms. DeLano’s done nothing. However, two people have been killed in the last month. This individual is replicating scenes from Ms. DeLano’s books.”

  His eyebrows rose, indicating surprise, before he let out a snorting, derisive laugh.

  “It amuses you, Mr. Jefferson, that two people are dead?”

  “It amuses me that anyone reads that dreck Blaine churns out, and that the police would have any trouble finding the lowbrow reader of second-rate potboilers who’d use their simplistic plots to kill.”

  “You must have read them yourself to have such a strong opinion on their content.”

  “I have not. I don’t need to read them to know they’re dreck.”

  Mattie hurried in, carrying a lowball glass of amber liquid with a twist of orange on a small tray. Like a skilled waitress she set a cocktail napkin on the table beside Jefferson, put the glass on it.

  “Is there anything else I can get you, Craig?”

  “No. This won’t take long.”

  When Mattie turned to go, Eve spoke up. “Mrs. Jefferson, if you could stay for a moment.”

  “My wife is preparing dinner.”

  “It won’t take long,” Eve repeated.

  On a sigh, Jefferson waved at a chair as if giving his wife permission to sit. She did, on the edge of the chair, back straight, knees pressed together, ankles crossed.

  “Apparently one of Blaine’s readers—and I use the term loosely—is copying murders from her books. Turning low-rent fiction into reality.”

  “I … Killing people? Murdering people?”

  “Isn’t that what I said?” Jefferson snapped. “What do you expect me to do about it?” he asked Eve.

  “You can start by telling me where you were last night between five and seven P.M.”

  Face flushed as red as his son’s had been, that same ugly heat burning in his eyes, Jefferson pushed halfway out of his chair.

  “You would dare accuse me? Mattie, get my lawyer on the line.”

  “You can do that.” Eve held up a hand, watched the woman struggle over who to obey. “You’re absolutely entitled to that, but it’s a simple, straightforward, and routine question. Getting it out of the way saves everyone time. Let’s be clear. I’m not accusing you of anything. I’m establishing your whereabouts so we can move on, and so I can tie this up and leave you to enjoy the rest of your evening.”

  “Craig, I don’t have Stan Grotti’s contact number.”

  At his wife’s apologetic tone, Jefferson flicked his wrist at her. “I don’t like the quest
ion, your tone, or your attitude.”

  “I get that a lot, but answering the question gets me out of your hair faster.”

  “I arrived home at five-twenty. I unwound from my workday in my den until Mattie served dinner at six-thirty. At seven-fifteen, while Mattie cleared and ordered the kitchen and dining room, I spent thirty minutes with my son in the family room. I believe that more than covers it.”

  “It does. Mrs. Jefferson, can you corroborate that?”

  “I—yes, yes, of course.”

  “Thank you. Has anyone contacted either of you asking questions about Ms. DeLano?”

  “Why would they?” Jefferson shot back.

  “She is the mother of your two oldest children.”

  “Blaine lives her life, such as it is. We live ours.”

  “Could you tell me the last time you had contact with her?”

  Jefferson shrugged, picked up his drink. “I live my life,” he repeated.

  “Mrs. Jefferson?”

  “Ah, I—that is, we—sent the girls gifts for Christmas. They sent us thank-you notes.” When this earned her a cold stare from her husband, Mattie returned it with a quiet smile. “You said it was fine as long as I paid for them myself.”

  “If you want to throw your … ‘professional mother’ salary away.” He tapped fingers in the air, making air quotes around the term.

  “The long and short, this is none of our concern. If some moron decides to pattern murders after Blaine’s ridiculous excuse for novels, it has nothing to do with me. And if the blowback throws her silly career in the ditch, it was always going to end there. Now, is that all?”

  “I think that covers it.” Eve rose. “Thanks for your time.”

  “Mattie will show you out.”

  When she reached the door, Eve dug out a card, handed it over. “In case you remember something. Or have any issues that require police assistance or intervention.”

  “I don’t see how I can be of any help to you.”

  Eve glanced up where the kid sat at the top of the steps, watching, listening.

  “You never know where help might come from.”

  She thought about it on the drive home, concluded she wouldn’t hear from Mattie Jefferson. Eventually she, or another badge, would end up sitting across from Craig Jefferson Junior in the box.

  She knew a violent offender in the making when he tried to kick her in the shins.

  But for now, she could cross them off her list. No question in her mind Jefferson loathed his ex-wife, but he also believed her unworthy of his attention. That bled over to his daughters.

  He didn’t think of them, didn’t care about them.

  Whoever murdered Rosie Kent and Chanel Rylan cared a great deal about Blaine DeLano.

  From what Eve could see, the ex-husband made sure he knew no one who cared about his first wife.

  Too bad, she thought. She’d have gained great satisfaction from making the asshole’s life a living hell, even just for a few days. She’d have enjoyed screwing with his regimented life where he reigned as a god the moment he walked in the door.

  Since the possibility of that remained slim to zip, she’d just have to settle for catching a killer, and making her life a living hell. For a couple of life sentences.

  Bolstered by that, she drove through the gates of home, saw lights gleaming in the windows, and the sweep of outdoor lights illuminating the grounds, tossing the glamour of the house into relief against a moody sky.

  She thought of Roarke, a man with the money and power to reign as a god if he’d chosen. And she decided he probably did in areas of his business—or at least gave that impression to any who tried to cross him.

  Inside that castle of a house no rigid schedules were made or even suggested. No dismissive wrist flicks on either side. Pissy behavior on both sides? Sure, now and then.

  If he’d wanted a woman who’d have a hot meal on the table at six-thirty sharp, or who scurried to make him some stupid cocktail when he walked in the door, he sure as hell wouldn’t have married a cop.

  She pulled up, got out to leave her car where it sat, and decided if the murky sky had opened up to show even a single lucky star, she’d have thanked it.

  9

  She walked into an empty foyer, just stood there a moment to breathe it in. Stripping off her coat, she tossed it and the rest of her cold-weather gear over the newel post.

  She looked around, taking stock. She couldn’t compare it to DeLano’s, or Jefferson’s. It was uniquely Roarke’s, and now hers.

  Full of art and antiques, rich colors and fabrics, gleaming wood. Lush and plush, rich and privileged. Warm and welcoming.

  And, she was pretty sure, empty except for the cat.

  She went to the house comp. “Where’s Roarke?”

  Good evening, Darling Eve. Roarke is not currently in residence.

  “Okay.” She started upstairs, intending to head to her office, dig into work.

  Then detoured to the library.

  Roarke loved books, and had the space and means to create a small cathedral for them inside his home. Shelves, full of them, lined the walls. And not for looks, though she had to admit they added a distinct style. He read them, enjoyed them, preferred the weight of a physical book in his hands, she knew, to the same words on a screen.

  It occurred to her he might have some of DeLano’s books.

  Though she hadn’t spent much time in the room—big enough to earn the term house in some circles—she knew the books ranged in a kind of order.

  He had shelves of the classic literature the state school had tried to pump into her brain. She’d been okay with some of it.

  He owned prose and poetry, plays and philosophies. Religious texts, art books, histories, biographies, books on mechanics and mathematics—that would no doubt make her brain bleed.

  She circled the two-level room, marveling at Roarke’s capacity and interest in collecting. Books, weapons, properties, vehicles. Clothes.

  But she knew, with books, whatever he collected, he preferred novels and poetry for pleasure reading. She paused, slipped out the book she’d given him their first Christmas together.

  Yeats. An old copy because he valued the old, the history of what lasted. And Yeats because as a young boy in Dublin, living in hell, he’d found a discarded copy of Yeats. And had taught himself to read from it.

  So he loved poetry and great literature and …

  Yeah, a good, solid murder mystery.

  Skimming those shelves she found not just a couple of DeLano’s books, but several.

  She pulled out the two that currently applied, added the one she feared would before this was done. She carried them to one of the long, low leather sofas and, what the hell, ordered the fire to light as she hunted through Dark Falls for the murder of Pryor Carridine.

  The cat found her while she read, jumped up. Galahad started to cozy right in beside her, then froze. Every hair on his pudgy body stood up. He hissed.

  “What? What?”

  His eyes, feral in their light, fired at her before he sniffed her arm. His back arched like a Halloween cat.

  “What the hell … Jesus, the dog? Are you kidding me? It was hours ago. I was wearing my coat. You can’t possibly …” She sniffed her own arm. “I absolutely do not smell like big, sloppy dog. Besides, it wasn’t my fault. He had the crazy eyes.”

  Galahad snarled, sniffed her leg. Let out a bitter, throaty sound.

  “He leaned on me. It was line of duty, so get over it.”

  He turned his back on her, tubby body rigid, angry eyes focused on a wall of books.

  “How come you don’t act this way when I come home with blood on me, or street thief stench?”

  She could ignore his jealous ass, she thought, but …

  It was, in its weird way, sort of flattering.

  So, reaching over, she stroked a hand from his head to his tail. Twice. “Don’t be an asshole.”

  She went back to the book, to the scene. The cat hel
d out for nearly two minutes, then curled up against her. Absently, she scratched between his ears as she backtracked to study the plot, and tried to put herself in the mind of the killer.

  Fictional and real.

  Deciding she needed a more solid sense of the characters, she went back to the beginning, pulled out her notebook. Made notes as she read, and wished she’d hunted up the AutoChef—there had to be one in here—before she’d settled in. Before she’d ended up with a cat sprawled over her lap.

  A little annoyed, somewhat frustrated, Roarke walked into the foyer. Unlike Eve—or what Eve wouldn’t admit even under threat of death—he actually enjoyed being met by Summerset and the cat after a workday.

  Especially a workday that had been largely a pisser.

  He’d spent far too much of it untangling a snafu before it could roll into a full-blown clusterfuck. And the fact that he’d eventually tracked the initial mistake back to one of his most valuable and reliable people in R&D only added to it.

  A tiny miscalculation, really, he thought as he tossed his coat over Eve’s because he just didn’t feel like hanging it up. And that tiny miscalculation had led to another, and another, building like a bloody snowball rolling downhill.

  He’d caught it, so a stroke of luck there, before it cost serious money or damaging PR. And his valued and reliable mechanical engineer had been so appalled and apologetic, had offered no excuses, Roarke hadn’t been able to relieve frustration with a verbal ass-kicking.

  He considered heading down to the gym, taking Eve’s tack and ass-kicking the sparring droid.

  Maybe Eve was down there, he thought. Or maybe he could talk her into going a round or two in the dojo. And capping it off with sex.

  There’s a room we haven’t hit yet, he thought as he went to the house comm. She’d appreciate the thought.

  “Where is Eve?”

  Good evening, Roarke. Darling Eve is in the library.

  “What? Where? Dallas, Lieutenant Eve, is in the library?”

  Affirmative, that is her current location.

  Baffled, fascinated, he wound his way through the house, came to the open doors of one of his favorite rooms.

  There sat his wife, her boots up on the long bench table, the cat lengthwise across her lap, and a book in her hand.

 
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