Dark in death, p.17
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       Dark in Death, p.17
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         Part #46 of In Death series by J. D. Robb

  “I know which is which.”

  Even as she spoke, the pages turned. Now she stood in the theater, a body slumped in a seat on either side of the aisle.

  No, of the page, Eve corrected. Again, they were close but not exact.

  “I know which is which here, too, but they’re the same to her.”

  “Him,” Dark corrected.

  “That’s the fiction. They’re the same.”

  “We’re not.”

  “I’m not in the books.” Still, Eve crossed over to examine the fictional body as she would any victim. “Strongbow had to change some things around so it worked for her. She’d call it rewriting, but really, it’s just cheating.”

  She straightened, gestured. “This one came in alone because the friend got the bogus tag before showtime. But the real murder? Strongbow had to wait until both the vic and her friend were in place, because a real person doesn’t have to follow the book, right? Rylan could have decided to skip it if her roommate got the emergency tag before the vid started.”

  “That’s not how it was,” Dark insisted.

  “It’s not how it was because the killer changed it. Benson came in alone because that’s how DeLano wrote it. Rylan came in with a friend because the killer couldn’t risk her changing her mind. She wrote it different, just different enough.”

  Eve turned back. “Benson has to do what’s written, no choice. Same for you. I’m not in the books,” Eve said again. “How does the killer account for that?”

  “You don’t exist,” Dark told her. “You’re not real until you’re on the page.”

  Eve smiled, cool and thin. “That’s exactly right.”

  She awoke to morning’s reality. Roarke sat on the couch in the sitting area, drinking coffee, the morning stock reports scrolling on the muted screen, the cat sprawled beside him.

  She stayed in the warmth of the big, fancy bed another moment, studying the man who’d banged her like a drum the night before. The business suit radiated the elegant power of the man wearing it, and she had no doubt he’d already wielded that power in the predawn hours.

  The cat showed a man content in his home, and the coffee? Well, a man who understood priorities.

  She sat up, said, “I’m not in the books,” and rolled out of bed.

  “You’re not, no, and good morning to you as well.”

  “Coffee. Shower. Think.” After programming coffee—hot, black—she stumbled off to the shower with it.

  Roarke reached down, scratched Galahad between the ears. “Another cold one for those of us who have to venture out of the house today. What do you say we get a bit of oatmeal in our favorite cop, and help it go down easier with a ham and cheese omelet?”

  When Eve came out the cat was sprawled in front of the fire, no doubt where he’d been banished, as two domed plates sat on the table. Along with a pot of coffee.

  She hit the coffee first. Priorities. And sat.

  “I’m not in the books.”

  “So you said.”

  “How does she deal with that? I don’t know anything about writing a book, but it seems to me it’s got to be a problem to add an entire character to the mix, right? And not just one,” she continued as Roarke removed the domes. “There’s you, there’s Peabody. You’ve got McNab and, for this at least, Reineke and Jenkinson. Mira, Morris. It’s a frigging cast of characters.”

  As she spoke, she added brown sugar, berries to the small bowl of oatmeal. Her mind definitely elsewhere, Roarke noted, as the look that clearly said, Crap, oatmeal, didn’t appear.

  “Your subconscious must have been busy in the night.”

  “Maybe, but I’m right, aren’t I? She can replicate, with some creative fiddling, the murders. But she can’t replicate the investigation. She can’t rewrite me or the investigative team, because we’re not in the books.”

  “She’s delusional, Eve.”

  “Yeah, but that could work for us. I bet she follows the crime beat. If she didn’t before, she’s following it now. And I happen to know the reigning queen of the crime beat, and just how much she loves an exclusive.”

  “Which you’d give her.”

  “I put it out there we’ve connected these two murders, and we’re looking for a single individual, one suspect. Then I spin the whole following leads, unable to divulge. I can play that out.”

  “Writing yourself into the book?”

  “No, no, just the opposite. I’m outside it. I’m the reality, but now I’m a face, a voice—visual and auditory, right? And she has to figure out what to do about it.”

  “You’ll try to shift her focus to you.”

  Her back went up, instantly. “If you don’t think I can handle some whiny wannabe—”

  “I don’t doubt you can, but I’d hardly be as I’m written, would I, if I didn’t have some concerns.”

  “Okay, and anyway, it’s not about shifting her focus to me. Going after me? That’s a whole new book, and she’s got to finish what she’s already lined up. It’s about shaking things up, giving her something to worry about in the real world. It’s a slap on her writing on one level. She wasn’t good enough to convince me two different people committed two murders.”

  “It’s a bad review,” Roarke added, finding the angle inspired. “And quite a bit brilliant. Wear black.”

  “You’re telling me to wear black?”

  “Suggesting,” he corrected. “And, though I enjoy you in strong colors, you’ll be projecting that visual. Dangerous black. Uncompromising. In fact, I have something in mind.”

  When it came to projecting an image, she thought, who had a better handle? “Have at it,” she invited.

  Roarke rubbed a hand on her leg, rose, then wandered off into her closet.

  As he did, the cat began a slow, silky bellying toward the table.

  Eve forked up a bite of omelet. “Do you really think because he went in there, I’d let you get away with it?”

  Galahad blinked at her, rolled over, and went back to his sprawl in front of the fire.

  Roarke came back with a mock turtleneck, body-hugging pants in a combination of leather and some sort of stretchy material, and a leather jacket with dull silver zippers on slash pockets on the sleeves.

  He’d added a pair of chunky boots that would hit well above the ankle and had that same dull silver in buckles over a series of tough-looking straps.

  All in dangerous black.

  With a nod, Eve polished off her eggs. “I’m good with that.”

  She rose to dress as he sat again—noting he’d brought her underwear, too. Black.

  Not just the man who had everything, she thought as she started to dress, but the man who thought of everything.

  “I’m going to work here for an hour,” Eve told him. “Get that list of potential third victims hashed out. I want to talk to DeLano again, and her mother, and I’d rather do that in my house this time. And Nadine. I need to see if Mira’s on board with my assessment. Or ours,” she corrected, “as you’ve had a lot of insight on this.”

  “I wouldn’t wish for another murder,” he said as she crossed over to hitch on her weapon harness. “But I did enjoy the time with you in the library. All of it.”

  “I’m pretty fond of that room now myself.” She shrugged into her jacket. “Dangerous?”

  “Very. Add lip dye and mascara.”

  Her back didn’t go up this time, but her body sagged. “Come on.”

  “Consider it insight. Just add that. For the visual.”

  “Crap. Bullshit crap.” She mumbled it, but strode off to the bathroom to push through the limited supplies Trina forced on her.

  She came out. “Now?”

  “Now? Lethal. You’ll worry her, darling Eve. I have no doubt. See that you, at some point, slip a hand into your pocket in a way that shows the camera a hint of your weapon.”

  “That’s good. That’s a good one. I’m going to get started.”

  He rose, walked to her. Skimmed a finger down the de
nt in her chin. “Take care of my lethal cop.”

  “Count on it.” She kissed him, walked out.

  “I do,” he murmured, slipping a hand into his own pocket to rub his fingers over the button he carried there. “I do count on it.”

  12

  In her home office, Eve read the list of names from her search list. Potential third victims, and some, she thought, hit close to the fictional character’s careless, reckless, selfish description.

  More than a few of them had a sheet—assaults, illegals, destruction of property, shoplifting, DUI, disorderly conduct, public nudity. Some charges dismissed, some community service, some cage time, and a lot of court-ordered rehab.

  As far as she could discern not one of them contributed in any way to society. And not one of them deserved to end up on her board as a victim.

  She sent them to Peabody with instructions to set up interviews—and to twist arms where necessary to get said individuals into Central.

  As she’d likely be talking to people most of the day, she didn’t want to start now. She sent Nadine a text telling her to come in to Central, with a camera.

  She sent a message to Blaine DeLano requesting that she and her mother come in to Central at their convenience, advising them to contact Peabody with the time they expected to arrive.

  After one more message, this to Mira asking for another consult, she sat back a moment to review her notes, then her board.

  Shake things up, she thought again. Change the angles and give the crazy bitch something to think about.

  She looked forward to giving Strongbow a dose of the real.

  She headed downstairs, saw her coat, a scarf—not the one she’d unwound the night before but a long black cloud—along with black gloves probably lined with some ridiculously expensive fur, and her oddly beloved snowflake cap.

  She lifted the memo cube topping the pile, engaged.

  After a brief, sort of jazzy instrumental, voices—male and female—sang in harmony.

  Baby, it’s coooold ouuutside!

  She snickered, wondered how he managed to think of the silly. After gearing up, she slipped the memo cube into the pocket of her coat.

  She walked into the cold outside.

  Something fell from the sky that wasn’t quite snow, wasn’t quite ice, but took elements from both to create the altogether nasty. The thin skin of it over the streets boosted traffic from annoying to insane.

  She cursed it. Cursing it didn’t make anyone move faster or with more skill or sense, but she felt better after venting.

  By the time she pulled into the garage at Central, she wished the entire driving population of New York City into the fiery flames of hell.

  She made her way up to Homicide, and as she swung in noted Santiago sat at his desk. He wore a cowboy hat and a sulky expression.

  She said, “You’re wearing the hat.”

  “I know, boss. It’s on my head.”

  “Why are you wearing the hat?”

  He shifted to aim his sulky look at his partner. Detective Carmichael smiled her most serene smile. “A little bet,” she said, “on the Knicks game. Chicago wins, I spring for lunch for a week. Knicks win, he wears the hat for a week.”

  “You bet against the Knicks? You deserve the hat.”

  “I grew up in Chicago,” Santiago protested. “That’s gotta count.”

  “The people of New York pay your freight, Santiago. That’s what counts.”

  The sulk deepened. “Don’t you own the Celtics?”

  “Roarke owns the Celtics,” she corrected. “And when they play the Knicks, they’re the enemy. We have standards in this division. Mets, Knicks, Giants, Rollers, Rangers. Get on board, Detective, or you may wear that hat permanently.”

  “What about the Yankees, the Jets?”

  Eve stared coldly. “Don’t make me write you up.”

  She turned to Peabody as her partner clicked off her ’link.

  “Got some of it lined up,” Peabody told her.

  “My office.”

  Eve walked straight to it, dumped the outdoor gear as Peabody followed.

  “The DeLanos are coming in as soon as the girls leave for school. On the skank list … It’s heavy in skank, Dallas,” she said when Eve aimed a fresh stare. “On that I’m mostly getting machines. Your average skank’s not an early riser. I did tag one who hadn’t been to bed yet. She told me to fuck off, but since she’s currently on parole—jumped another skank in a club, attempted to shove second skank off the balcony. Both were intoxicated at the time. Also stoned. And as one Loxie Flash—legal name change from Marianna Beliski—is on parole, and in court-ordered rehab—which ingesting illegals and/or alcohol would break—and since she appeared to be under the influence of both, my suggestion that she come in or have her parole officer advised of this violation was met with a ‘Fuck you, I’ll be there.’ ”

  Peabody’s rundown gave Eve a fairly clear picture. However. “I think we’ll refrain from referring to potential targets of a murderer as skanks.”

  “Let’s see what you say after you deal with her, and the others once I run them down. I predict a skank parade. Anyway, I read your report. This Strongbow looks like a viable suspect. Obsessed.” Peabody ticked them off a list with her finger. “Pissed off. Threatening. Irrational.”

  “Now we have to find her. I didn’t find a single Strongbow in Delaware after casting the net over the last five years. And the ones I’ve found in New York don’t fit.”

  “It’s her nom de plume.”

  “It’s her nom de bullshit, but we need to keep pushing on it. There’s probably some sort of connection. Going with the odds again, she’s in Brooklyn, low-rent digs, low-level job. We can start running females who relocated to Brooklyn around the date Strongbow wrote DeLano she’d taken the risk—so May ’58. Females living alone, no spouse, no cohab. No criminal,” Eve considered. “She never took a risk before, stayed in the background. We can flag any seamstresses, tailors—though that might just be hobby.”

  “You really think she made that coat? If she did, that takes real talent.”

  “I’ve exhausted the search, and that sort of reversible wouldn’t be hard to pin down if it’s retail. You’re going to run that down. You’ve got to get the material, right, whether she made it or had it made? If we continue with the living-on-a-budget line, having it made is less likely. If she made it, that dopey penguin material came from somewhere. Let’s find out where.”

  “I’ve got some sources there that might be able to help. If she’s a serious craftsman, she wouldn’t order material online. You want to see it, feel it. And I’d guess she’d need a professional machine.”

  “Tap the sources.”

  “Will do. I want to study the security feed again, get a good zoom of the material. I bet my eyes would be sharper if I had coffee.”

  Eve just jerked a thumb at the AC. “If you tap out with local sources, try Delaware. Maybe she brought it with her, the material. If she’s that good, she must’ve had specific venues for buying her supplies.”

  “If she actually made it, she might be in the business. If she’s in the business, she probably gets her supplies wholesale.”

  Frowning, Eve took the coffee Peabody handed her. “That’s a point. If you wash out with your suppliers, tag Leonardo.”

  “He’s a high-end designer,” Peabody pointed out. “Did he design those pants you’re wearing, because they’re abso-mag. If I had yard-long legs toned like steel, I could wear those pants.”

  “I don’t know who the hell made them, and Leonardo wasn’t always high-end. He’d still know people.”

  And her oldest friend Mavis’s “honey bear” had the sort of sweet, open nature that drew people.

  “Get on it, stay on it. Pull in help if you need it, but let’s track those stupid penguins. I’ll take the DeLanos when they get here.”

  “Already booked A. Dallas, we could pass the run on Strongbow—hunt for single female in Brooklyn—to EDD. T
hey’d cut through it faster.”

  “Do that. And …” She trailed off when she heard footsteps coming their way. Female.

  Hell, all she had today was female.

  Mira, looking very female in her soft blue winter coat, some sort of fuzzy white beret angled over her dark sweep of hair, stepped to the doorway.

  “I’m interrupting.”

  “No, your timing’s great.”

  “I’ll get on this. I love the hat,” Peabody said to Mira with a grin, getting one in return.

  “It’s a new favorite. You do such pretty work, Delia.”

  “It’s not work if you love it.”

  Peabody clomped out; Mira swept in.

  The thin, short heels on the rose-colored booties made no concession to whatever fell out of the sky. But they matched the pretty suit under the coat to an exact shade.

  Mira set down her suitcase-size handbag—shades of blue and rose in a wavy pattern—unwound her white scarf.

  “You want some coffee? Or that tea stuff?”

  “The tea, thanks. I had coffee this morning.”

  Though Eve couldn’t say what having had coffee had to do with having coffee, she programmed the tea.

  “I appreciate you getting to me so fast.”

  “I read your reports, last night and this morning.” Mira sat in the desk chair after Eve pulled it out for her, crossed her legs. “I wanted to get to you before my day started, as it’s very full. From the data and evidence you’ve gathered, Strongbow is the prime suspect. This person—and I agree with your conclusion, she’s a woman—exhibits signs of obsession and delusion.”

  “And then some,” Eve agreed.

  “She’s clearly obsessed with DeLano, with the books, with her own desire to publish. She’s moved from fan to fanatic. The accusations—her absolute conviction that DeLano plagiarized her work—is part of the delusion. And that delusion and obsession has its roots in her conviction that DeLano was not just the author of a series of books she enjoyed, but her personal friend, her mentor and advisor.”

 
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