Dark in death, p.16
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       Dark in Death, p.16
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         Part #46 of In Death series by J. D. Robb

  Shaking her head, she drank more coffee. “By the time you stole that painting the first time, you didn’t need a fee. You sure as hell weren’t economizing. Maybe Strongbow just likes to fiddle with tech.”

  “If so, and in her place, I’d have purchased higher-end ’links and had a fine time playing with them. You’d still need skill and patience, but you’d have more flexible results and more options.”

  “All right, if it’s economy, she probably has to work to pay the rent, and she’d need to keep the rent low. I haven’t been able to trace the coat. Lots of reversibles, but nothing that matches. Nothing close to matching, so far anyway.”

  “Perhaps she made it.”

  Eve’s gaze narrowed. “Made it. Maybe she made it. Maybe she knows how to make clothes. A seamstress, a tailor. A seamstress or tailor with some good e-skills who lived in Delaware who might have a family connection with the surname Strongbow and aspires to write.”

  “To be published,” Roarke corrected. “She writes, and surely continues to do so. But, like Mendini, yearned to be recognized for her art. When that recognition eluded him, he killed himself. As it eludes her, she kills.”

  “You’re right, and the persimmon guy’s a good comparison because I’m not going to be surprised if Mira concludes that doing the equivalent of jumping in the Seine becomes the endgame here—whether Strongbow knows it now or not.”

  “I’ll live forever, immortalized by my words and deeds.”

  “The question is: How many will she manage to take with her before she jumps?”

  11

  Eve sent the communications and a detailed report to Mira. She sent an update to Peabody and, since between the two of them only Peabody actually knew how to sew, instructed her partner to push that angle.

  Because Jenkinson and Reineke had an investment, she copied them.

  She widened the search on the Strongbow name, but found no connection in Delaware.

  Rising, she walked to the board.

  “She’s got no real connection to anyone up here. It’s all illusion. She’s put them all into her story, one where she’s the writer, the main character, the victorious villain. She makes herself into the killer in the individual books, the sex, the weapon, the method, the crime scene—close as she can get. Kent and Rylan, they’re surrogates, and as close to the fictional victims as she could manage—and it’s damn close in both cases. But DeLano blends into this Deann Dark, and that’s delusion. DeLano’s nothing like this character, not in looks, lifestyle, personality, or experience.”

  “The antagonist must have a protagonist,” Roarke pointed out.

  “In this case, she’s flipped them, right, from the traditional roles. That’s where she’s living. She’s got to move to the next book. Hell, she’s got the next six picked out and ready. Look at the timeline of the communications. She used those lags to start her research, to select and study and plan. That way she can move from book to book. A month between the first two.”

  Stepping back, she took a hard look at both victims. “Some of that’s recovery time. First kill’s big. Time to settle down again, to wait and see if you made any mistakes. And part of it’s just opportunity. She wanted the vid to mirror the one in the book as closely as possible. It’s on the schedule, so she just had to wait until that scene’s set. But the next?”

  Eve rubbed her hands over her face. “Could be tonight, could be six months from tonight. If it’s the six months, she’ll move on someone else, or rush it, because she’s in it now, and the need escalates.”

  “Who’s the third?”

  Moving to it, Eve rolled the stiffness out of her shoulders. “Ex-girlfriend of a trash rocker. Edgy lifestyle, mid-twenties. Lots of illegals and easy sex. Poisoned in a club—high-end sex club pretending to be a dance club. Cyanide in some fancy martini.”

  “And the killer?”

  “Obsessed fan of the rocker, female, same age group. Rumor is the vic and the rocker may be getting back together. Rocker’s out of rehab, clean, and obsessed fan kills his ex to protect him from her. I need to read it,” she muttered as she came back to her desk. “But I really need to find the victim before she is one. How many badass ex-girlfriends of trash rockers are going to be living in New York? Maybe don’t narrow it to trash rock. Successful rockers, any subset thereof, to start. All the killings are in New York, killer lives in New York, so it has to be … Christ.”

  “More than you thought?” Roarke asked when her search results came up.

  Her eyes wanted to bleed. “I can narrow it,” she mumbled. “I will narrow it.” But she felt obliged to skim through first. “Double Christ! Nadine’s on here.”

  “Nadine?” Roarke stopped his work. “Our Nadine?”

  “Wait. Wait. There are a couple articles on gossip sites. Blah, blah, Jesus. Photos, too. Stuff about her having dinner or going to a concert with Jake Kincade. That’s that guy in that band.”

  “I know who he is, and Avenue A as well. Strong, innovative rock musicians. Strong and innovative enough they’ve stayed at the top of their game over two decades. And Nadine’s seeing him?”

  “Yeah, she is—according to this stuff. He was performing, like Mavis, at Madison Square the night of the massacre. He was backstage, hanging with Nadine when I got back there. He called her Lois.”

  “Lois?” It only took a moment. “Ah, as in Lane. Clever. And if you’re worried, I wouldn’t be. Kincade has a reputation for being a hardworking musician, and one with a reasonably clean lifestyle. Nadine doesn’t fit the victim here.”

  “No, they don’t fit the characters, and Nadine’s not going to hang out in a sex club … Well, the Down and Dirty, but that’s different. She never mentioned she was banging a rocker.”

  “And dinner, a concert, equal banging?”

  “They’re grown-ups. Unattached grown-ups. Banging ensues. Anyway.” She narrowed her search parameters. “Younger, toss in the rehab …”

  She looked at the notes she’d written earlier.

  “Victim made her living charging for interviews, taking kickbacks from clubs, selling data to gossip reporters and blogs. And brokering illegals. Consumed same.”

  Bit by bit Eve fed it in until she got down to a half dozen potentials.

  “Better, I can work with that.”

  “I’m through this,” Roarke told her. “Do you want me to take some of those?”

  “No, I’m going to run them on auto for now. I need the books. This one, and the Sudden Dark one. Hell, I need them all.”

  “Two library visits in one evening. Why, it could become a habit.”

  He went with her. “I’ll take one, you the other?” he suggested as they walked through the house.

  “You take the, what is it, Dark Deeds—with the rocker. I skimmed the murder scene, but you may catch something I missed. I want to see what the hell there was in Sudden Dark that snapped this woman, get a better sense of it before I talk to DeLano again. And her mother,” Eve said. “The mother’s probably got a better sense of the communications.”

  She stepped into the library, unsurprised to find it ordered. Dishes cleared, wineglasses whisked away, books they’d been reading neatly stacked on the bench table.

  Because he knew her, Roarke headed to the cabinet first. “Coffee time’s passed at this point. I believe I’ll have a brandy.”

  Knowing her opinion on brandy, he brought her water.

  She considered arguing, then considered if she won said argument—doubtful—she’d probably be awake until it was time to get up again.

  She took the water, pulled Sudden Dark off the shelf.

  Once again she sat beside Roarke with a book, with the fire simmering. The only thing missing was the cat, and she imagined they’d find Galahad sprawled over the bed when they got there.

  She didn’t have to hunt up the first murder, as the book opened with it, from the killer’s point of view. Male, a sexual predator who abducted women—first victim age twenty-four—kept her for thr
ee days, raping, torturing, and eventually drowning her in a bubble bath. After which he applied makeup to her face, styled her hair, and dressed her in a business suit.

  He added pearl studs to her earlobes, kissed her tenderly, and called her Britina. Then, in the early hours of the morning, he transported the body to a location in Little Italy and dumped it on the sidewalk in front of a restaurant called Lucia’s.

  She skimmed through to the first Dark scene, then skimmed until she found the killer again. His thoughts as he stalked and captured his next victim.

  She set the book aside, got up to prowl and pace.

  “I think you summed up the victim here in Dark Deeds well enough,” Roarke told her. “I’d add it may apply that the only reason Dark took the case was because the victim’s mother—a friend of a friend’s mother—came to Dark and pleaded with her. The victim’s painted as careless, selfish, even a bit vicious. But the mother never gave up on her.”

  “So see if there’s one on my list of rocker girlfriends who has a mother who hasn’t given up. It could apply.”

  Roarke set his book aside. “You’re frustrated because you find yourself investigating on two fronts. Fiction and reality.”

  “Fiction is reality to this bitch.”

  “It is. And for you fiction is an occasional form of entertainment, and for you again, primarily through vids. A book’s a different thing.”

  “Made-up stuff is made-up stuff.”

  Roarke shook his head. “A vid comes to you, even at you. It’s visual, it’s auditory, and can, of course, pull you in. Its purpose is to do just that, draw you into the world you see and hear. But a book? You go into it. There’s no visual or auditory other than what forms in your own mind. You visualize the characters, the scene, through the words. You, as reader, interpret the tone of voice, the colors, the movement as you physically turn the pages. Now you have a killer not just experiencing the story, not just replicating it, but living it. So you have to do the same, and that’s frustrating for a woman as reality-based as you.

  “And more,” he added, “with each killing she becomes a different character with a different motive, a different psyche.”

  “But under it, she’s just one sick, twisted—and you know what?—whiny bitch. Whoever she puts on?” Eve waved her hands around her face. “She’s still under it.” Then she sighed. “And the sick and twisted is, I don’t need Mira to tell me this one is likely to end up in a facility for the sick and twisted instead of an off-planet cage when I find her.”

  “Yet another frustration.”

  “It’s how it is.”

  “Still, a part of you will think, however damaged she is, she still took the lives of the people on your board, she still shattered the lives of those who loved them.”

  “I’ll worry about that later. Worry about catching her now.” She paced a little more, and circled a finger in the air. “This,” she said, indicating the books surrounding them. “They’re different kinds of fantasy.”

  “You could say.”

  “And she’s zeroed in—reader and writer—on murder fantasies, crime fantasies. That’s what—like you said—pulled her in, and enough for her to spend time writing to DeLano, enough for her to spring off another fantasy of being a writer, of that kind of fiction. Why read murder mystery type books?”

  “Entertainment,” he began, but Eve cut him off.

  “No, you. You’re the reader here. Why do you read them?”

  “Ah well.” Swirling brandy, he thought it over. “I enjoy a puzzle, I suppose, and playing along with it. Certainly since I married a cop I get more entertainment and satisfaction at experiencing the villain’s ultimate failure. Good overcomes evil in the end, and that makes them a kind of morality play.”

  “Okay, but that’s not what she’s after. She wants to flip that. She wants evil to overcome good. She wrote a book she claims makes the killer—the villain—the star, right?”

  “And claims that that’s what makes it innovative and brilliant,” Roarke added. “When it’s certainly been done before.”

  “She’s self-absorbed. Nobody’s done what she’s done, not in her mind. In this Sudden Dark one? DeLano writes stuff from the bad guy’s perspective so you see him plotting and thinking and doing stuff, but just bits and pieces, right? It’s not his book, it’s Deann Dark’s book. But Strongbow’s rewriting it, all of them, and making herself the star. She’s in charge. What if—”

  “It’s the only way she can be,” Roarke finished. “The only time she’s ever been in charge.”

  “Bang. It’s not, for her, the puzzle, the entertainment, even the temporary escape from reality, it’s the only way she’s in charge, that she’s important. The only way she wins.”

  “What does that tell you about her?”

  “It tells me the probability’s high that whatever job she has—or did in Delaware—is low-rung. Likely she’s been overlooked and, at least to her mind, undervalued. And, I think, she’s had little interaction with males. I’m betting female-centric profession, maybe comes from a female-centric background. Female authority figure or figures, because she sure latched on to female-centric books.”

  “Yet she wrote her protagonist as a male,” Roarke pointed out, “who kills women. That may stem—edging into Mira territory—because she’s never had any real power as a woman.”

  “Could play in. Most likely she lives alone, no real connections to pull her into the real world. Possible, always possible, she’s got a big shit pile of money, but most likely she’s living on a budget, and since a roommate or partner is unlikely, I’d look for her in a small, cheap apartment. And likely in Brooklyn. Likely she works there, too. Maybe has a job where she can work out of her own place. I like that one. Limited contact with actual people, that’s how I see her.

  “She’s ordinary,” Eve added. “She’s not particularly attractive because attractive people tend to make connections if they want them. And she does. She wants people to see her, they just don’t. So no sparkling personality, no charm. She doesn’t stand out, never been popular, never been somebody. She’s kind of invisible, and that enables her to become whoever she wants to become.”

  “A. E. Strongbow was her chance, to be someone, to become visible and important, and DeLano stole it. Killing DeLano wasn’t, isn’t, enough. Before it comes to that,” Roarke said, “she has to steal DeLano’s work, flip the theme of the morality play, and rewrite it with herself as the center.”

  “That’s the circle,” Eve agreed, “and around it are plenty of angles to work. Okay. Okay.” She had them lined up in order of priority in her head, and now she looked at Roarke.

  “Well, strip it off, pal, and let’s get this done.”

  His eyebrows winged up as she hit the release on her weapon harness. “That’s quite the pivot.”

  “Summerset-free house, library not yet checked off. It’s a straight line, not a pivot.” After laying her weapon on the bench table, she pulled off a boot. “That’s a good couch.” She tossed the boot aside, pulled off the other. “It’ll work.”

  “I don’t believe I had that purpose in mind when I bought it. Then again, that was before you.”

  “I’m here now.” She pulled off her belt. “You, too.”

  “I am, yes, and currently watching my wife strip in the most practical and efficient way. And wondering just why that only makes her more alluring.”

  “ ‘Alluring,’ right.”

  She stripped off her sweater and shirt to the tank beneath. And he timed it well, he thought, waiting until her trousers dropped to her ankles.

  Before she could fully step out, he grabbed her—quick and sharp as a whip—so she tumbled on top of him.

  “You’re still dressed,” she pointed out.

  “Not for long.” And rolled her under him.

  Since she seemed in the mood for heat and speed, and he felt the same, he took her mouth, ravished it with his. Her hips pumped up, circled in grinding invitation even as her hand
s wedged between them to make quick work of the buttons of his shirt.

  He dragged her tank down to her waist so flesh pressed to flesh.

  “Two more minutes, we’d have been naked.” Her voice came breathless; her teeth nipped. “But this way works.”

  While her mouth warred with his, she unhooked his trousers, freed him. He rolled her panties down to her knees.

  When he thrust into her, she rose up to meet him, to take him.

  “Yeah, yeah.” Her fingers dug into his hips; her breath went ragged. “This works.”

  He let himself go. It was what she wanted, what he needed, so he took, took. Found himself taken. Pistoning hips, muffled gasps, hot bodies, hot minds merging into one frantic unit.

  Mating, he would think later when capable of thought again, at its most elemental.

  No frills, no sweet words, no seductions needed here and now, not for two people who knew love spread under and over and through all.

  To be needed always struck her as elemental. To be needed by him added miraculous to the basic.

  So she, too, let herself go, to take and be taken hard and fast until pleasure, already keen, sharpened blade bright.

  In those last seconds, on that thin, edgy point of release, her eyes met the wild blue of his. She said, as that blade slashed them both, “I love you.”

  Elemental.

  Later in the night, curled up against him in bed, Eve dreamed strange dreams.

  She walked through the pages of a book until the words blurred under her feet and became the cheap, scarred floor of the flop where Rosie Kent died.

  She saw two bodies, two beds, two white sashes tied into bows. As if, she realized, on facing pages of a book.

  Rosie Kent on one side just as she’d been in the crime scene photos from the file. Pryor Carridine on the other, as described in the book.

  Close, she thought. Not exact, not like twins or clones, but close.

  “That one’s mine.”

  Eve glanced over. She’d read the description of Deann Dark enough times now to recognize her. The dark hair drawn back in a short tail to leave the face unframed. A pretty face, deceptively soft, as the woman inside it, behind it, knew how to be hard.

 
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