Leverage in death, p.17
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       Leverage in Death, p.17
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         Part #47 of In Death series by J. D. Robb

  “If anyone other than maintenance attempted to access the guts, as you say, it would generate an alarm. If anyone attempted to circumvent the alarm, it would have to be done from another area, and would require more skill than I suspect these people have, and a great deal of time and very good tools.”

  “Well, he fucking didn’t go flap, flap.”

  “A parachute?” Peabody suggested. “It’s crazy, but maybe he jumped, floated down.”

  “It’s New York, but even so if some dude drops down out of the sky with a chute, somebody’s going to report it. He had to . . . Wait. Wait. The apartment directly across. The people there aren’t back until tomorrow. Check the locks,” she told Roarke. “Check to see if the locks have been compromised or opened in the last eighteen hours.”

  Roarke checked the bedroom level, went down, checked the main. Looked back at Eve.

  “You may often have the cranks, but you are my clever girl. Jammed and scanned and opened.”

  “Which constitutes a crime. Gives me probable cause to enter. Open it up, pally.”

  On a half laugh, he bypassed the alarm, the locks, nudged the door open for her.

  The wall of glass stood unframed, letting in the gloomy March light.

  “That’s an odd place for an empty frame.” Eve gestured to the frame—like the others in Banks’s main level—lying on a multicolored rug. “Terrace doors are open just a crack.”

  She stepped to them, eased them open, stepped out into the incessant drip of rain.

  “He has to know the apartment’s empty. He knows the building. Lives or works here, or he knows Banks well enough to have spent time in his place, spent time here. He does what he needs to do across the hall, brings the painting over here, takes it out of the frame, rolls it up. Easier to carry that way.”

  She crouched down by the wall. She didn’t need the sweepers, not when she could clearly see the digs and scrapes on the decorative stone.

  “Got balls,” she stated. “Fifty-one floors up, but over he goes.” Gearing herself up for it, she stood, leaned out and over.

  “He goes off near the end of the wall. Maybe straight down, or if he’s done climbing, has good equipment—and I’m betting—he can swing over. To his apartment, an accomplice, another empty one.”

  “He retracted the hook, so yes, good equipment,” Roarke put in. “You’d go down between terraces, you see. Wouldn’t do to have someone spot you, would it? With the right equipment, you could retract, move horizontally or down as your needs demanded. You might slip into another unit, one unoccupied, and walk straight out that way.”

  Eve glanced back. “Sounds like the voice of experience.”

  He only smiled. “Does it?”

  “I need to get back to Central, check in with my team, brief Baxter and Trueheart. I need everything Rhoda can give me.”

  “You’ll have that.”

  “Appreciate the assist. Peabody, get the sweepers out here while I get what we need. I’m going to take it all home as soon as I clear the decks at the cop shop. You’re going to start running guests, visitors, outside vendors from last night. I’ll take the residents.”

  Eve blew out a breath. “Let’s get to work.”

  12

  Baxter gave Eve a list of artwork the hot artist chick knew Banks had taken from the gallery. Though incomplete, it gave Eve a start.

  She updated her board and book, wrote her report and sent copies to Whitney and Mira. And glanced over when she heard the dancing clicks coming toward her office.

  Mavis Freestone swirled in. A long, shiny coat of popping pink covered with electric-blue lightning bolts lay open to a crotch-skimming skirt that fluttered more pink over striped tights and thigh-high shiny blue boots. Her hair twirled up, gold streaked with both colors, then poufed back into a pink ponytail.

  She bounced right over to Eve wrapped her in a fierce hug that smelled of cherry lollipops.

  “Hi,” Eve managed.

  “Hi to you. And that’s for the top secret Peabody and McNab project. You’re the ultra maggiest of mags, Dallas.”

  “It’s not that big a deal.”

  Mavis drew back, eyes—purple as plums today—shining. “It’s the mega deal of deals. Wait till you see the gown Leonardo’s altering and customizing for her. He’s doing it himself because that’s my moon pie. Got minutes?”

  “Sure, a few.”

  “Bella’s out entertaining your troops, but she’s got something for you.”

  “Okay.”

  “Maybe you could . . .” Mavis gestured toward the murder board.

  “Oh, right.” She covered it.

  “Ice. Second.”

  Mavis dashed out, and as she dashed back, Eve heard Bella’s cheerful jabbering.

  The kid wore what Eve decided was a Mavis and Leonardo–style slicker. More pink, lots of shiny, and decorated with rainbows. She, too, wore boots, with multicolored bows in lieu of laces, along with a frilly skirt, and a dazzling smile.

  She wiggled out of Mavis’s arms, chanting: “Das, Das, Das!”

  Then launched herself at Eve with a height and velocity that made Eve think the kid might develop one hell of a standing jump shot.

  She hauled Bella up because what choice did she have. Said, “Hey.”

  “Das!” Bella threw back her head, laughed like a lunatic so her blond curls shook against the pink unicorn clips tucking it back from her ridiculously pretty face.

  Bella caught Eve’s face in her hands, shook her head, then linked arms tight around Eve’s neck. Sighed. “Das, Das, Das.”

  “We haven’t said anything—unless in sort of code about top secret because somebody could blab,” Mavis explained. “But I’m pretty sure she knows something happy’s coming, and you’re the reason.”

  “I’m not. I just—”

  Bella leaned back, kissed Eve’s cheek. Earnestly she babbled, patting her hands on Eve’s face, then brushing them into Eve’s hair. She pulled one of the unicorns out of her curly mop, and with a kind of ferocious concentration, shoved it into Eve’s choppy hair.

  “Oh hey, I don’t—”

  “Pretty!” Bella beamed sunshine smiles. “Das pretty.” And kissed Eve again.

  “My Bellamina, that’s so sweet, and generous. She’s learning to share. It’s important to share.” Mavis spoke directly and very deliberately to Eve—with the pretty scary addition of a steely mom stare.

  “Right.” And now, Eve thought, she had a freaking pink unicorn in her hair.

  “And that’s not even the present. I guess that’s an extra. Bellisima? Do you want to give Dallas her present?”

  “Das!” She wiggled down. “’Res’nt, Das. Bella do. Pretty!”

  Mavis took a roll of thick paper tied with a ribbon out of her enormous bag, handed it to Bella.

  Smiling, lashes fluttering, Bella held it up to Eve. “Bella do. Das.”

  Eve sat, untied the ribbon, unrolled the paper.

  Blobs of color, splotches of more, covered it along with finger swirls and prints, dots, and shaky lines.

  She said, “Wow.”

  “Bella loves to paint. Finger painting’s her specialty. When I told her we were coming to see you today, she wanted to make you a painting.”

  “It’s great.” And rivaled, she thought, one of Jenkinson’s most eye-burning ties for impact.

  Bella crawled up into Eve’s lap, wiggled her butt down. She took Eve’s hand so they pointed together.

  “Das,” she said. “Ork. Somshit. Gah-ad.” She tapped, then moved up. “Das Ork how.”

  “Sss,” Mavis prompted.

  “How-sss. Like cas . . .” She looked at Mavis.

  “Sil.”

  “Cas-sil.”

  “It kinda is,” Eve agreed, a little surprised she could interpret the words, even if she still saw only blobs and splotches. “It’s really great, kid.”

  More babbling, along with hopeful blue eyes. This time Eve had to look to Mavis.

  “She’s hopi
ng you’ll put it up.”

  “Oh. Ah, yeah, sure. I . . . I’m going to take it home. I have to show it to Roarke, and we’ll put it up.” Somewhere.

  “And Somshit?”

  “Yeah. Him, too.”

  “Gah-ad?”

  “The whole deal. It’s great,” she said again because, strangely, it sort of was. “Thanks.”

  On a happy sigh, Bella laid her head against Eve’s shoulder.

  “We have to go, my Belle, and Dallas has to work.”

  “Want Das.”

  “We’ll see Dallas soon, but we have to go home, finish packing for our trip.”

  “Go whoosh!” Bella scrambled around to face Eve, jabbering and howling with laughter.

  “She loves to fly and go on trips.”

  “Where are you going?”

  Mavis hauled Bella up. “To New L.A. The Oscars, remember?”

  Stupid, stupid Oscars. “I didn’t know you were going.”

  “Not just going. I’m performing.” In a rare show of nerves, Mavis pressed a hand to her belly. “‘Hold on Tight’ is up for Best Song, and they asked me to perform. It’s not going to take it—I think ‘Take Your Rest’ has it locked, but . . . Jeez, Dallas, I’m performing at the freaking Oscars. I’m a little terrified.”

  “You’ll kick ass.”

  “Ass,” Bella echoed.

  “Sorry.”

  Mavis shook her head. “I can use the kick ass. And I’m going to try to do that.” She tipped her head to Bella’s. “Who’d’ve thought? Who’d’ve thought I’d ever have the chance to kick it at the Oscars. And I wouldn’t if it wasn’t for you.”

  “Oh, bull . . . ony.”

  “Primo save. It’s true. You and Roarke opened the door, and here I am. I’m never going to forget it. So, you better watch.”

  “Wouldn’t miss.”

  “You watch,” Mavis repeated. “Because I’m going to kick it. For my Bellamina, for my honey bear. But this time? This time most of all for you and Roarke. Gotta jump, we’re leaving tonight. Tell Dallas bye, baby.”

  “Bye, Das!”

  “Flip side,” Mavis said. “Cha.”

  Bella blew kisses over Mavis’s shoulder as they clipped out.

  Eve looked down at the finger painting. A castle-house, Roarke, a fat cat, and, okay, Somshit.

  You just never knew where life would take you.

  Or death, either, she thought.

  She gathered her things, headed out. Despite the tie—yellow flowers over a sea of green that made her eyes want to bleed—she walked to Jenkinson’s desk.

  “Anything hits I need to know, tag me. Otherwise handle it. I’m working from home.”

  “Sure thing, boss.” His gaze drifted up; his lips twisted into a smug smirk.

  “What?”

  “Just thinking how you rag on my ties, but you got a pink unicorn in your hair.”

  “I—crap!” She reached up, dragged it out. “Not on purpose. Yours is deliberate.”

  Because she couldn’t just ditch it, she stuffed the clip in her pocket and tried to stride out with dignity.

  * * *

  By the time she got home, Eve had a reasonable plan of attack for the work. She walked in just as Summerset walked down the stairs.

  His eyebrows arched up. “Has there been an alien invasion? Perhaps a zombie apocalypse?”

  “We’ve got the zombie right here.” She stripped off her coat, tossed it over the newel post as he continued down. Then she dug into her file bag. “I’m supposed to show this to you.”

  She unrolled the painting, held it up. “Mavis brought the kid by. It’s her work—the kid’s not Mavis’s.”

  He smiled—and that was creepy. “Yes, I see. Very colorful.”

  “It’s the house, and . . . the rest of us.” Eve tapped a blob. “She says this is you.” And waited a beat. “Somshit.”

  He laughed—and that was way creepy. “I’m flattered.”

  “Well, anyway.” Eve rolled it up again. “She wants me to put it up somewhere.” This time she waited longer than a beat.

  “Naturally. It’s a long tradition in many families to display a child’s artwork on the friggie.”

  “Why?”

  “The kitchen’s often considered the hub or heart of the house. Though that might not be the case for you, I would think your office kitchen would serve.”

  “Right.” She started up the stairs, stopped when he spoke again.

  “The unrestricted love of a child is a precious gift.”

  “I get that.”

  “I thought you would tell him, was sure of it. I was wrong.”

  She didn’t have to ask what he meant. “I didn’t have proof,” she began, and he said nothing. “And what good would it have done, for him, if I’d told Roarke I suspected the man he thinks of as his father killed Patrick Roarke?”

  “I thought you would tell him,” Summerset said again, simply. “Due to—beyond our personal . . . friction—your duty to the law, and your loyalty to Roarke.”

  “Those are exactly the reasons I didn’t tell him.”

  “I don’t understand you.”

  “Guess not.” She started to continue up, stopped. “Okay, here it is, then it’s done. I believe absolutely in the law, the need for it, the rules of it, the need and rules of it that lead to justice. I’d be nothing without believing that. But that was a different time and place, and circumstances. You had no one in authority you could trust to serve and protect, to stand for you when a fucking monster threatened to rape, torture, and kill two children. He’d have followed through on that threat because there was no one to stop him. You did. Roarke’s here because you stopped Patrick Roarke, because you protected the child he was at that time, in that place, in those circumstances. That’s enough for me.”

  “There were no cops such as you in that time and place.”

  “Times change.” She continued up. “Put it away.”

  “Perhaps I can,” Summerset agreed.

  She stopped one more time. “You don’t get points for teaching him to be a better thief.”

  That creepy smile snuck back. “His talent there was innate.”

  She shrugged. “Hard to argue.” And walked up to her office.

  When Roarke came in two hours later, she’d gone through a pot of coffee, and set up a trio of auxiliary boards. She sat at her desk, boots up, eyes closed.

  “I’m not asleep.”

  “All right then. You’ve been busy.”

  She opened her eyes, studied the new boards as he did. “One for residents—including day staff—one for hotel employees—including subcontractors. One for visitors and outside vendors, delivery people who came in during the relevant time frame.”

  “That would be near to three thousand people, I expect. You’re handling all this?”

  “Peabody’s got the hotel staff, and since Baxter and Trueheart are finished with the art gallery, they’re taking the vendors and deliveries, the visitors. I want the visual, and I’ll eliminate as they do.

  “Screwed up your schedule today,” she said.

  “A breech in my security screwed up my schedule, and now that it’s nearly on track again, I want a glass of wine and some food.”

  “Gotta feed the cat,” Eve said absently. “He came in a little bit after I did, settled down for one of his marathon naps, so Summerset wouldn’t have dealt with it.”

  She rose, wandered to the boards. “I’ve eliminated a good chunk of residents. Kids, elderly, women. Both wits were absolute on the male. And there are more than a few whose out-of-town status checks out. I’ve crossed off a couple more with solid alibis. Still working on that.”

  “Here. Diffuse the coffee you’ve been pounding.” He handed her the glass, kissed the top of her head. “I’ll take half after we’ve had some dinner.”

  “It wasn’t really a breech in your security.”

  “Close enough.”

  She followed him into the kitchen, and the cat—sensin
g the dinner bell—came with her. “You can’t have alarms going off every time a light flickers,” she pointed out.

  “True enough.” He stopped to study the finger painting she’d stuck on the friggie. “This is . . . interesting.”

  “Mavis brought Bella by my office and the kid gave me this, wanted me to put it up. Summerset said this is how it’s done.”

  “Ah. A bold use of color and texture. Perhaps she’s a budding student of the Pollock school.”

  “It’s the house.” Eve stepped up, tapped the painting. “And this is me, you, the cat, Summerset.”

  Roarke looked closer, then stepped back, trying distance. “You see that?”

  “You don’t?” Then with a laugh, she got the kibble. “The kid explained. Did you know Mavis is performing at the Oscar deal?”

  Roarke angled his head, still studying the finger painting. “I did, yes.”

  “I should’ve known. It’s a big deal for her, so I should’ve known.”

  “You don’t pay attention to such things, and Mavis wouldn’t expect you to. You pay attention enough to hang this artwork, and that’s considerably more important, I’d think.”

  “It’s not exactly the heart of the house though, is it?”

  He turned to her, slid a finger down the dent in her chin. “This house has many hearts.”

  Her face cleared. “It does, doesn’t it?”

  While the cat attacked the kibble—with a chaser of salmon, they had stew, a comfort at the end of a dreary day.

  “How would you have gotten in there?” she asked him. “Into Banks’s place, if you didn’t live in the building?”

  “Likely I’d have had time to plan—so there are a number of ways. But in this case, we’re talking of the moment.” He considered as he ate a good, chunky chicken stew generous with dumplings.

  “I wouldn’t have complicated it with elevator security and jammers. How long, after all, did it take you to track his coming and going?”

  “I still don’t know who he is.”

  “But you already know his methods, his skills, and you know he entered the building by normal means.” He gestured to her board. “He’s on one of them.”

  “Okay, so what’s the alternate method?”

  “Up the outside.”

  “Get out! It’s over fifty floors,” she pointed out, and got a shrug.

 
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