Dark in death, p.13
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       Dark in Death, p.13

         Part #46 of In Death series by J. D. Robb
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  A fire snapped and sizzled cheerfully. The cat snored.

  “Well now, this looks cozy.”

  She looked up—hard, flat cop’s eyes clearing slowly. She said, “Hey.”

  “And what might you be reading on this cold winter’s night?”

  “More reviewing. Or studying. You read Blaine DeLano.”

  “I have.” He walked over, angling his head to read the titles of the books she’d taken off the shelf. “Is she victim or suspect?”

  “Neither. Did you read this one?” She tapped Dark Days.

  “I haven’t as yet. I’ve been through most of the Hightower series—and they’re quite good. I haven’t dived in to the series with his former partner. That one.” He gestured to the book in her hands. “I’ve read that one. Dark Falls, where she quits the force.”

  “LC strangulations.”

  “Ah, yes.” He flipped back in his mind, dropped down beside her. And God, it did feel marvelous to sit. “Serial killings. A white scarf.”


  “Six of one, but yes, sash. And a fancy bow. As I recall, the first victim was a friend, or the … sister of a friend of Dark’s, and it proved a breaking point for the detective.”

  “It also inspired the actual murder of an LC—young and new like in the book. Last month. And the Dark Days follow-up? My vic. Vid theater, ice pick, Hitchcock vid, young actress.”

  “And DeLano’s not a suspect?”

  “She came to me with it this morning. Nadine brought her in—they’re friendly. DeLano’s clean.”

  “So you’re pursuing a case of lethal plagiarism.”

  “Funny, that’s how her kid put it, more or less. She’s got two, teenage daughters. Add an asshole ex, who’s also unfortunately clear.”

  “I believe I need to catch up, and I’d say we should have some wine.” He rose. “I tend toward brandy or whiskey in here, but I think wine.”

  She started to say she’d take coffee, then he distracted her. Just loosening his tie as he walked across the room to a fancy cabinet. Why was that sexy? she wondered. She didn’t even get why men insisted on wearing ties—and don’t get her started on Jenkinson. But the way Roarke loosened that knot, flipped open a couple buttons on the shirt?

  It was kick-in-the-guts sexy.

  “A full-bodied red, I think.” He glanced back, caught her look. “And what’s that about?”

  “I spent about ten, fifteen minutes with the asshole ex before I came home. And it just struck me, you could toss away all your money—”

  “Then how would we afford this very nice wine?”

  “I mean without the money, or being so damn pretty, you’re everything he’s not.”

  He opened the wine, brought it and two glasses back to the sofa. “I assume that’s a compliment.”

  “You can bank on it, ace.”

  He sat, leaned over, kissed her lightly. “Thanks for that then. And is that where you want to begin? With the asshole ex?”

  “It sort of starts there, with DeLano and the books.”

  While she talked, he poured the wine, sat back with her. Galahad rearranged his bulk, stretching out so he took up part of both laps.

  “She could have destroyed him,” Roarke commented. “She’s a popular writer—add single mother supporting her two daughters, her own mother. She could have destroyed him by using the media. But she didn’t.”

  “She built a good life for herself, for her family. They’re tight. It’s kind of admirable. A lot of—you know—estrogen in the house. It sort of simmers in the air.”

  “Simmering estrogen.” Roarke sipped his wine. “Sounds bloody dangerous.”

  “It’s plenty girlie, but not weak.”

  “Too many regard the female circle as weak.” He stroked a hand over Eve’s hair—much as she’d stroked the cat. “To their peril.”

  “The killer’s female.”

  “You have a witness? That’s burying the lede, darling.”

  “Process, not a wit. She killed the first victim as a woman, killed the second in the guise—and mind-set—of a man.”

  She told him of the security video, moved through to the conversation at the DeLano house.

  “The younger kid—Piper—strikes me as scary smart. Not just with the school stuff and math and whatever. Just … canny. That’s one of your words.”

  “Is it?”

  “It even sounds Irish. Anyway, she makes this woman from the printouts—no hesitation. Describes what she’s wearing, and it was two months ago. DeLano’s nervous because the suspect was that close to her family, obviously following them around, but she’s not surprised the kid remembers. Apparently she remembers shit.”

  “How old is she?”

  “Fourteen—sister’s got a couple years on her. But here’s the thing, and something I didn’t say to any of them. I think, yeah, maybe the kid observes and remembers, but I don’t think a fourteen-year-old girl pays that much attention to some random woman, not when she’s juiced about Christmas, in the shopping mode.”

  “You think something about the woman had her paying more attention.”

  “Probably subconscious. Just an instinct. She might have seen her otherwise—looking different—but something triggered something.”

  “Are you concerned for DeLano and her family?”

  “Not yet.” But she’d fully apprised Brooklyn PSD. “Eight books in the series, and she’s going to want at least a couple more. She’s planning on all of them, but she might snap before eight.”

  Because she worried about that snap, Eve frowned into her wine.

  “Then she’ll go for DeLano. Or one of the kids, the mother, to make her suffer first. I’ve got Brooklyn keeping an eye on things, and I gave the family the precautions to take. Mira thinks the killer’ll turn on what she calls the creator at some point, but not yet. She’s having too much fun to eliminate the source.”

  “What do you hope to find in the books?”

  “DeLano’s not a cop or a killer, but she has to try to think like one. And she taps a retired cop for some research when she needs to. I’ve got three detectives I know of who say she hits the mark.”

  “Add an expert consultant, civilian.”

  “Okay. But in a story, there’s got to be a trail or a screwup, or some luck, right? It seems to me our killer’s real familiar with the books, and she’d avoid that trail, screwup, try to block the luck.”

  “Ah.” Understanding her, Roarke managed to top off their wineglasses without disturbing the snoring lump of cat. “She’ll need to do some editing.”

  “You could say. The first’s a serial, but she’s not going to go after another LC. That’s not the point. Did that, move on. In the second, the killer—male—was connected to a competitor of the victim. She won’t have a connection.”

  “So you’re looking for what not to look for.”

  “Sort of. You’ve still got to cover the ground, but I have to figure she’s copying the book, so she thinks: Doing this led to Killer A’s downfall. So I’m going to do this instead. The other thing is, for the first book the killer’s just targeting street-level LCs between eighteen and twenty-two, because that’s what her husband goes for, for sideline fucks. Our killer needed to find a more specific type, one that matched the first victim. Eighteen, in her first two months in the life, who used a time-in-and-out flop.”

  “Writing it’s one thing, a blank page. Re-creating is more limiting.”

  “Bang. And still, with street-level LCs it’s not hard. You troll around some, you cull out the ones who fit the age bracket. Maybe you take some pictures on the sly, find a way to get info on them. It’s going to take a little time, but you’re a planner, and planning well takes time.”

  Understanding where she was going, Roarke nodded. “The second’s more difficult. A young actress with a vid habit. A classic vid habit. The Hitchcock vid—was it the same vid in the book?”

  “DeLano said it was the Bitchcock—”


  “It’s got a ring. It was him, but another vid. Ah, shit, M Stands for Murder—I need my notes, because that’s not it.”

  “Dial M for Murder.”

  “That’s the one, and the killing’s during a big scene where the main female character fights off a killer.”

  “Grace Kelly. Ray Milland’s her husband who’s hired—more blackmailed—someone to strangle his very wealthy wife, while he’s at another location, but on the phone—it’s mid-twentieth century—with her.”

  “Solid alibi.”

  “Exactly so. He rings her up—the husband does—to get her on the line, the killer attacks. And she struggles while the husband listens.”


  “But she manages to get her hand on the scissors she was using earlier, still on the table, and she kills the killer.”

  “And in the theater, everyone’s focused on the screen, like with Chanel Rylan’s murder. The killer stabs her in the back of the neck, walks out. I haven’t read it yet to see where it diverges. Has to be some.”

  “I’ll take that one. And this?” He tapped another book.

  “Dark Deeds—third book. She’s already working on it, already selected the vic. I have to read it, find out more about the book vic, then start looking for potential targets.”

  “Well then.” Roarke picked up the second book. “What do you say we settle in for an hour or so, then we can have our own murder book club over dinner?”

  “Okay, but we’re looking for—”

  He patted her hand. “I’ve got it.”

  He put his feet up on the bench table beside hers, opened the book. Smiled at his wife. “It’s nice.”

  “It’s work.”

  “It’s nice work.”

  With the cat spread over both of them like a furry blanket, the fire simmering, their bodies hip-to-hip on the sofa, she couldn’t deny it.

  She dug into it, into the dynamics between the partners. A good balance and contrast, as far as Eve could tell, with Hightower’s more straight-arrow leveling out Dark’s instinctive moves and gut plays. And vice versa.

  She reread a section from the victim’s point of view, clearly saw the similarities to Rosie Kent. The youth, the recklessness, the inexperience.

  And both from solid, suburban, edging toward conservative backgrounds.

  The murder itself where the author kept the killer’s gender neutral. To keep the reader guessing, Eve supposed. The meet when the killer approached Pryor/Rosie just as the young LC strolled onto the street to start the night’s work.

  The killer showed—more likely faked—nerves to give the victim the false confidence of being in charge. And yeah, yeah, just as Eve had imagined it, the killer requests her “date” freshen up. More vic point of view, washing up a little, thinking smugly how this one should be easy money, thinking about a pair of mag shoes she’d be able to buy. How her lame sister just doesn’t get how much fun this is.

  Steps out, finds wine on the table. Sure, sugarplum, let’s have a drink and relax. Followed by the shy request for the LC to undress first.

  As she drinks, Pryor/Rosie does a little striptease, something she’s practiced in front of the mirror. Her date for the evening looks like money, and sometimes money added a nice tip, so she played it up.

  Starts to feel a little dizzy, laughs it off, and keeps rolling her hips, doesn’t argue when her date insists she finish the wine.

  Doesn’t hesitate when she’s told to lie down. So sleepy. She wonders vaguely why her date takes the time to pick up the clothes, to fold them neatly, like her own mother used to.

  It’s the last thing she thinks—the last thought of the dead girl is about her mother.

  The killer studies the girl on the bed, the firm, perfect breasts and the smooth, perfect skin. The young face under the whore’s makeup, the nails—fingers and toes—inexpertly polished a glittery pink.

  Takes out the sash, lifts the head to wind it, winds it around the neck. Thinks of punishment come due because she’d had no right to flaunt those breasts, that skin, that face.

  Nerves, fears, doubts—can I actually do this?—fade away in cold rage.

  Tightening, tightening the sash, heart drumming, drumming.

  The eyes flutter open, blind, bulging. The whore-dyed lips open, like a fish gulping. The body shakes.

  It’s like sex, yes, like the sex the little whore sold. Tightening, tightening as tears of grief and betrayal gather. No more, no more selling sex, no more tempting, no more taking. Then it all dies away. It dies. It’s done.

  Relief makes the killer almost tender. Patient fingers tie the bow, adjust it, perfect it, study it, approve it.

  And with it makes death a gift.

  Eve closed the book, stared at the fire as she let it roll around in her head. Moments later, Roarke closed his.

  “No question about it,” he said. “Lethal plagiarism. Why don’t we eat in here and talk about it?”

  “In here?”

  “What better place to discuss books? Computer, open drapes.”

  The heavy drapes parted on the window between sections of shelves.

  “Ah, it’s snowing.”

  Eve scowled at the windows. “Crap.”

  “It’s lovely from in here.” Rising, Roarke walked to another cabinet, opened it to an AutoChef. He called up the menu, perused it a moment. “Well now, Summerset said we wouldn’t starve while he was away, and he certainly saw to it. I think a snowy night in the library calls for shepherd’s pie.”

  “Why is it ‘pie’ when it’s not?”

  “I think before potatoes came around England and Ireland, it was made with a pastry crust. But as we won’t be tending sheep, Summerset does his up pub style.”

  He programmed two servings before she could wheedle him into pizza. “The Deann Dark character’s fascinating. I’ll definitely read more of the series. But as to the relevant book, I see your point. The killer followed the book when it came to victim and method, but shifted other things about—as plagiarists are wont to do—trying, often succeeding at least for a time, in getting away with it.”

  “What changes?”

  He brought two personal casseroles to the library table, gestured for her to bring the wine. “No reversible coat or changing from male to female. The killer walked in and out as himself, but made a point of asking for the vid in the theater two down from where the victim would be.”

  He walked to another table, took the two heavy candlesticks, and carried them to the library table. Lit them.

  “How did he know the victim would be there?”

  “Amelia Benson—the character—talked about it in dance class, in the workshop she was part of, and on her social media. She admired Grace Kelly particularly, and had never seen the vid. She had a friend planning to attend with her, but said friend received a text minutes before the show’s start, purportedly from the restaurant where she worked as a line cook, citing a staff emergency and instructing her to come in and cover.”

  “ ‘Purportedly’?” Eve sat, studied the pie that wasn’t pie.

  “Yes. When the friend arrived at work some twenty minutes later, no one knew what she was talking about. No one had texted her, but it was too late for her to go back, as the vid had already started.”

  Once again, he topped off their wine. “Meanwhile, the killer slipped from one theater to the other, and there we have your mirror scenes. With the deed done, he slipped out again, back into the other theater. In this case, the killing wasn’t discovered until the houselights came up, and by then he’d left with the crowd exiting the other theater.”

  “How did they identify him and wrap him up?”

  “Haven’t gotten there yet.” Roarke dug into the pie. “But I have gotten to the point where he raises the suspicions of the clever and intrepid Deann Dark. The victim’s mother hired her, by the way, as she believes her daughter’s former lover did the deed, despite being cleared by the police—Hightower specifically—as
he has a solid alibi for the time in question.”

  “Okay, the mother hires the PI because she thinks the cops are idiots, and the PI ends up proving the cops aren’t idiots. Back in reality, the killer reads the book, concludes strolling in and out, letting the security cams track her may lead to trouble. Because if the cops, and the PI, don’t review the feed, eventually pinning the killer as connected to the victim, they’re all idiots.”

  “I suspect you’re right, and am now invested—fiction and non—in discovering for myself. And yours?”

  It wasn’t pie, and it had a hell of a lot of vegetables, but they were all inside a meaty stew that had just enough kick, and mushed up with mashed potatoes that weren’t exactly mashed potatoes.

  So it all went down easy.

  “If I didn’t know the fictional killer to be female, I’d know after reading the killing scene.”

  “Easy to say.”

  “Mmm.” Mouth full, she shook her head. “It’s the way the killer looks at the vic’s body when the vic’s unconscious, before the kill. It’s not with lust or disgust, not with admiration or perversion. It’s with envy. The firmness, the smoothness, the youth. It’s an older woman envying the young. You could twist it, sure, make it play the other way, but the killer’s thoughts and sensibilities at that moment are female and envious.”

  “Interesting. I don’t know if I caught that when I read it.”

  “She’s resentful. The fictional killer, she’s snapped. She’s not planning things out step-by-step like the real one. She’s on a mission. It’s revenge and it’s—in her mind—protecting her family, her home, her way of life. It doesn’t matter to her that the vics are new and inexperienced, and therefore easier prey. It matters that her cheating husband bought them, that he sneaks off to buy sex from barely legal LCs. And she’s stupid because the LCs are just doing their jobs, so if she wants to punish somebody, she ought to tie a damn bow on the husband’s dick before she lops it off.”

  Roarke held up a finger as he swallowed. “Or perhaps have a firm and reasoned discussion with him on why he solicits those barely legal LCs.”

  “ ‘Reasoned discussion’ my ass. Next time after he gets home late—telling her he had to work—she waits until he’s asleep, and whacks it off. Think you can go out and stick that in some teenage working girl, then try to stick it in me? Think again, asshole. Then maybe while he’s still screaming, she grinds up his cheating, dismembered member in that kitchen thing she likes so much, cooks it up in a pie, and force-feeds him his own cock.”

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