Dark in death, p.14
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       Dark in Death, p.14
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         Part #46 of In Death series by J. D. Robb

  She pointed at him with her fork. “Let that be a lesson to you, pal, or a dire warning.”

  “I require neither, and you’re putting me off my dinner.”

  Eve shrugged that off, kept eating. “But does she go after the real problem, with that discussion or the whack? No. She kills three women. And would’ve gotten a fourth if Dark hadn’t tromped all over the law and the rules, stolen and hacked into the killer’s pocket ’link and found the first three victims and their data listed, along with three more.”

  “How do you know that? You couldn’t have finished the book.”

  “I skipped to the end.”

  “You …” He closed his eyes as he drank more wine. “Some things are unforgivable.”

  “It’s work, ace. I need to know what the killer knows, and how she uses it. They were closing in. Hightower was building a case, had a plan for drawing the killer in. But Dark jumped over the line, and if Hightower hadn’t covered her, would’ve lost her badge, likely soiled the case against a serial killer. She was right to turn in her badge at the end.”

  “She’d known the first victim since childhood. That family was more family to her than her own. She was in emotional turmoil.”

  “She was a cop,” Eve countered. “And if Hightower hadn’t caught up with her in that flop, she might have killed the killer. She wanted to, recognized that in herself. Recognized she’d warped the badge.”

  “She saved a life.”

  “And still. Justice first—I get that. And Hightower’s along those lines, but he stays on the right side of it, or bends it a little. She—Dark—snapped it.”

  “He reminds me of you a bit. Hightower. An excellent cop, with good instincts—maybe not as deep as yours,” Roarke commented, “but good. And becoming, being a cop? A goal he never deviated from. He’s by the book, but understands the book isn’t only the law, the rules, but people and justice.”

  “And she—Dark—tends to find the book a limitation, becomes frustrated by procedure. Maybe it’s growing up rough, learning how to slip and slide early, but … Hey, she’s a little like you, now that I think about it.” She shot him a grin. “You’re the girl in this one.”

  “Now you’re metaphorically whacking off my dick.”

  Amused, she shoved in more pie. “Just saying. Anyway, the killer changes scenes, enacts them differently, as the ones in the book get caught. She doesn’t intend to get caught.”

  “So you’d look at the books as not only a blueprint, but a kind of dry run?”

  “Yeah. The killer knows the books inside and out. Who knows the books as well as the writer?”

  “I suppose, first, the editor.”

  “Yeah, looked there. DeLano’s editor’s a guy, in his sixties, married, two offspring, and offspring from offspring. Not only doesn’t he fit the profile, but on the night of Rylan’s murder he was in his office—confirmed—until eighteen hundred, then met—also confirmed—one of his other writers for drinks at your Palace Hotel bar. And, just to be thorough, I also confirmed that on the night of Kent’s murder he was in Chicago speaking at a conference.

  “He does, however, have a female editorial assistant, and there are proofers and other people who work in the publishing house who could—and do—access books even before they’re published.”

  “Another however,” Roarke commented. “For the price of the download or hard copy, anyone can own the book and read it countless times.”

  “Yeah, and that’s where I’m actually leaning. It seems to me, as tight as the DeLano family is, she’d have taken her kids to the publishing house. The canny one would likely have met a lot of the people there, and if—as advertised—she doesn’t forget stuff, she’d have recognized the woman shadowing them on the shopping trip. So I’ll be shifting my reading agenda for the rest of the night to fan mail. Anybody this obsessed with books, character, author—or all three—would have contacted DeLano, and probably more than once.”

  “I lean with you there. I can also shift my reading to mail.”

  “I’m tossing some to Peabody, but depending on how much there is, and if your slate’s clear, I could toss some at you.”

  “Who doesn’t enjoy reading other people’s mail? And my slate’s clear enough. An hour with a good book, prying into someone else’s mail, comfort food? All a good antidote, as I came home irritated.”

  “Irritated? You didn’t seem irritated.”

  “Likely because I found my wife reading in the library with the cat on her lap. The lovely homeyness of the picture collapsed irritation.”

  “So if I’d been huddled at my command center you’d still be irritated?”

  “Potentially.” He shrugged it off. “I’d thought to beat up a sparring droid, as that works so well for you, or talk you into a bout.”

  “Sparring or sex?”

  “I like the combination of both.”

  She sat back, nudged the nearly empty casserole away. “Now I’m too full of the pie that isn’t pie for either.”

  “The night’s young yet.”

  “If you tell me why you were irritated, is it going to irritate you?”

  “I’m over it, so no. Just a very, very slight miscalculation in R&D that formed the basis of a series of miscalculations and bollocksed up an entire project until I happened to catch it. And then spending a large portion of my day working with the team to unbollocks it.”

  “Did heads roll?”

  “At a few points I might’ve pulled out the axe, but this particular head is known for the meticulous, the deadly accurate, and the innovative. A mistake,” he said with a slight shrug. “They happen.”

  “You probably scared the crap out of him.”

  “I may have, but he was so busy flagellating himself I’m not sure he’d have noticed. And a good book, a glass of wine—you and the cat—spared me the trouble of replacing yet another sparring droid.”

  “We could go down and take turns beating hell out of it before bed, but I like to save doing that for when I’m really pissed off.” She downed the last swallow of her wine. “Have we ever had sex in here?”

  “I’m sure I’d remember if we had, so no.”

  “We need to come back, definitely need to come back before the Return of Summerset, take care of that.” She made a check mark in the air with her finger.

  “Consider it on the schedule.”

  Now she frowned, looked around. “It’s a really good room, but it just hit me there’s no kitchen. We’re going to have to haul the dishes up or down.”

  He rose, took her hand. “I’ll activate a droid to deal with it—a domestic one.”

  “I forget you’ve got any around here.”

  “Domestically, you and I are failures. Something has to deal with such matters when Summerset’s gone.”

  “I used to do my own,” she said as they started out. Thought back to it. “I sucked at it.” She gave him a hip bump. “Makes me smart for hooking the rich guy.”

  “Makes the rich guy smarter for not having a cop wash his underwear.”

  “When I was actually washing my own underwear, the machines always ate a sock. Just one sock. Every frigging time. Why is that?”

  “We’ll ask a droid.”

  “But he’s not back for another week.”

  With a half laugh, Roarke hooked his arm around her neck, reminding her of Blaine DeLano’s headlock of affection that afternoon.

  It made her smile.

  10

  Roarke checked his incoming and found he had a couple of things to attend to after all. Eve programmed coffee, updated her board and book.

  Took a few minutes to study Jefferson’s ID shot.

  If life ran to the fair and the just, he’d be guilty of the murders, and she’d put him in a cage. But though he was, undoubtedly, guilty of being a bullying, abusive asshole currently training his son to be the same, if not worse, life didn’t run to the fair and just.

  Without a lot of work.

  Maybe one day
he’d cross a line, and she’d have a shot at him. But for now his picture graced her board only because she’d eliminated him as a suspect.

  She went to her command center, poured coffee, checked her own incoming.

  The report from Jenkinson and Reineke held a faint glimmer.

  One of the LCs they’d reinterviewed remembered—maybe—she’d noticed a woman hanging around a time or two during Christmas week.

  Remembered, she said, because it was damn fucking cold and pickings were slim. The penguin coat had sparked the possible memory more than the person inside it.

  It looked warm, the statement read, but tragic lame, so she’d recognized it when she’d seen it again a few days later. And had called out to ask if the woman was looking to hustle or to party. If it was hustle, to get the fuck off her turf.

  Both detectives deemed the sightings real, as they’d pinned down a bouncer at a sex club half a block away who’d noticed the same “ugly, dumpy coat.”

  Neither disinterested witness could verify race, build, coloring.

  Still, probability put the penguin coat stalking Rosie Kent since the end of December. The timing worked.

  She plugged in the fan mail disc, winced at the number of communications calibrated. She did the math, dumped a third on Peabody, another third on Roarke, then settled down with her own.

  She considered doing the first run on multiples, calculated the potential for any communication from the killer—if so—to have been sent under various names.

  Very possible, and still, you had to start somewhere.

  “Computer, calibrate and organize any and all multiple communications from the same individual.”

  Acknowledged. Working …

  In a fraction of the time it would have taken her clunker at Central, the computer finished the task.

  “Okay, that’s not small potatoes, either. Why potatoes? Why not elephants or trucks? Computer, prioritize any and all communications from the same individual numbering five or more instances.”

  She waited, nodded, then tackled the smaller batch.

  In the middle of it, Roarke came in, ordered the fire on, as she’d forgotten.

  “Sorry, just a little of this and a bit of that.”

  “No problem.” She stopped long enough to look up when he poured his own coffee from the pot. “Not the irritating stuff?”

  “No, that’s all well in hand again. And so now is the this and the that. You now own a small, ramshackle farm of just over sixteen acres in Nebraska.”

  “Huh? What?”

  “Have you forgotten our wager?”

  “Wager on …” She cast her mind back, a couple of weeks, vaguely remembered some silly talk about him buying crap property and turning it into gold. And betting he couldn’t do the same out in some area of Bumfuck.

  “You actually …”

  “The terms you set—rural area in Nebraska. I sent the details to you in a file—with photos.” He shot her a smile. “It should be fun.”

  “Have you ever actually been to Nebraska?”

  “A time or two, yes.”

  Since he’d distracted her, she called up the file, studied photos of a dilapidated house, dilapidated outbuildings—the purpose of which remained a mystery to her—and some overgrown fields. Piles of rusted, toothy-looking equipment heaped up like dinosaur bones.

  “So you’re going to set fire to it?”

  “Not at all. Wait and see.”

  “You’re going to lose at least a cuff of one of your tailored shirts on this one.”

  He smiled again. “Wait and see.”

  He’d taken off his suit jacket, rolled up his sleeves, and tied back his hair in his office. So he sat at her auxiliary in full work mode.

  “And so?”

  She shifted back to work mode herself. “I dumped a third on you. I’ve started with multiple communications from the same person, and am now sort of amazed at how many people write again and again. Like, what are they called—pen friends.”

  “Pals. Pen pals.”

  “Pen friend rhymes.”

  “And so it does.”

  “Plus a lot of them who write multiple times talk about the make-believe people like they’re actually people. Some of them get a little pissy when those make-believe people don’t do just what they figure those make-believe people should do. Some get more than a little pissy. A lot of the pissy is because the characters haven’t banged.”

  Roarke worked his way through Eve’s roundup. “I assume you’re talking about Hightower and Dark.”

  “Yeah, them. Some are getting a little pissy they’re not banging, others can wait for the banging but want them to exchange some sloppy kisses and express their feelings of love and devotion. Others don’t want either to happen ever. There’s a subset who seriously objects to the language. Like real people never say fuck you. Especially real people who’re cops.”

  Eve blew out a breath. “There are some threats, but they run to the: If you do this/don’t do this, I’ll never read you again. It makes me wonder why DeLano doesn’t write back and say: Thanks for your interest. Now fuck off.”

  He laughed at her over the rim of his mug. “It’s likely why you’re a cop and not a writer. I expect the complaints, as well as the kudos, are just part of it all. It does indicate an interest and attachment to the work, which would relate to how said writer earns a living.”

  “I’d rather be a cop. The mother, Audrey DeLano, is really efficient. She’s attached the response to each communication to said communication. She’s also really patient and diplomatic, as she’s the one responding to the bulk, which bumps her up on the potential target list.”

  “Because she’s the one who says no, however diplomatically.”

  “Yeah. She’s the daughter’s voice when she responds with the Gee, thanks for your interest and whatever, but. A lot of people send in ideas, suggestions, and straight demands. This is what needs to happen. Some even wheel out elaborate story lines, to which Audrey has a kind of standard response that’s basically the Thanks, but. Most accept this, but some get puffed up or insistent, so let’s highlight that sort.”

  “All right then.”

  “One more thing. We’re looking for a planner, detail-oriented. It’s probable that she used different names, at least once she started thinking about that lethal plagiarizing. Once I finish my section, I’m going to run a comparison on language, syntax.”

  “Writing style,” Roarke commented.

  “Yeah. But that’s the next step, and means running the whole batch.”

  “Then we’d best get to it.”

  Less than fifteen minutes later, Roarke interrupted.

  “I think you’ll want to take note of this one. Letters, all by post, from an A. E. Strongbow, the first dated March of ’58. This first is quite polite and complimentary, detailed as well on what Strongbow finds appealing in the books—and particularly the Dark series. Strongbow considers DeLano brilliant and admirable, like the character of Deann Dark, and feels DeLano has put much of herself into the character, as the best writers do.”

  “Doesn’t sound too wacky.”

  “Not yet. Strongbow—and there’s no indication of male or female here—states he or she is also a writer, though as yet unpublished. Much humility, and hopes to one day be as good a writer as DeLano. Requests advice on how to hone the craft toward publication.”

  “I’ve got a number of that sort in my share, too. And Audrey’s general advice.”

  “There’s a second letter, posted in May of ’58, thanking DeLano for the response, continuing with specifics on the latest entry in the series, again very complimentary. Near to gushing thanks for the advice and encouragement. ‘Your support has changed my life,’ it reads. ‘You’ve given me the courage to move forward, to stop making excuses, and dedicate myself to my craft, my art. You are my inspiration, my muse, my mentor. One day I hope to meet you in person, writer to writer, and thank you for all you’ve given me.’ ”


  “A little over-the-top, but—”

  “Not done. Strongbow asks, humbly again, if it’s possible to take DeLano to lunch, to discuss writing and perhaps to brainstorm over the manuscript Strongbow is working on.”

  Yeah, Eve thought, she’d definitely rather be a cop.

  “How’d Strongbow take the no? DeLano gets invites from professional organizations to speak, attend events, give workshops—and plenty from readers to weddings, bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, and memorials. The answer is invariably a polite, gracious no.”

  “In the letter responding to that polite, gracious no, dated June of ’58, Strongbow expressed understanding, hoped DeLano would consider it an open invitation, anytime, anyplace. More gratitude, more admiration. Then nothing until the next spring—May of the following year. I’m sending this to your comp so you can read it yourself.”

  “Okay.”

  Eve shuffled her share aside, waited for the transfer.

  She poured more coffee, read.

  Dear Blaine,

  I hope you and your family are well. It’s a credit to your incomparable skill and your ceaseless dedication that you can raise two daughters as a single mother and create such memorable characters, such intricate and entertaining stories, and with such consistency!

  I enjoyed your latest Hightower book, With Prejudice, tremendously, and have already read it a second time, doing so with a writer’s eye. You have such talent, like a magician, you bring your characters to full, fascinating life. Even though I knew Hightower and justice would prevail, my heart beat faster through the last climatic chapter.

  Of course, as Deann is a particular favorite of mine, I was very happy to see her make appearances in this installment. I’m already eagerly anticipating the release of Sudden Dark this fall.

  Meanwhile, I’m thrilled to send you my completed manuscript of Hot Blood, Cold Mind, which your invaluable support helped bring to life. Knowing I can, at last, repay that support in a tangible way brings me great, personal pleasure. I can only hope you’ll enjoy my work as I do yours.

 
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