Dark in death, p.18
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       Dark in Death, p.18
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         Part #46 of In Death series by J. D. Robb

  “She saw what she wanted/needed to see, and made that her reality.”

  “Yes. There is nothing, absolutely nothing in DeLano’s responses—though they are warm and friendly, even helpful—to warrant these conclusions.

  “This is a woman who creates situations, imagines actions, reactions, connections, and turns them, as you said, into her reality. She wishes something was so, and it becomes so. She has no one to talk to, no one to ground her to reality. She lives in the books—ones she reads, ones she writes.”

  Mira sipped some tea while Eve edged a hip onto the desk.

  “She kills in the books, and now in reality.”

  “Taking her power. I’d say she’s felt powerless,” Mira continued. “She’s watched those who break the rules, who do what society considers wrong, profit and thrive. Likely she’s experienced being treated unfairly though she, at least in her mind, did her very best, though she followed those rules.”

  “Bad guys win.”

  “They often do in reality,” Mira agreed. “Reading a series like Hightower, or like Dark, there’s a comfort. Terrible things happen, and they happen often to good people, to the innocent. But evil is overcome and punished by good. Balance is restored. At some point, this wasn’t enough. If those who do evil win, why not write about that, why not show that? And eventually, why not be that?”

  “You agree she’s living in the books, as she’s writing them.”

  “Her improved version of them, yes, exactly. The version where she, as creator and as the dark protagonist, has the power. The longer she does, the harder it will be for her to come back to reality, the shorter the time she’ll be able to hold that reality. If, as you believe and I agree, she’s already selected the third victim from Dark Deeds, she is living as the character of the killer in the book. Whatever job she might have, whatever other tasks she needs to perform, they’re becoming the illusion. Eventually the illusion she creates will become too strong, and far too appealing. Without medication and treatment, reality will cease to exist.”

  “You’re saying she’s not legally sane, but she plans, she edits, she’s choosing to kill, to become the killer.”

  “I don’t want to diagnose without examining her, but it’s the killer choosing. A part of her writes—whether literally or in her head. The writing is so consuming—the betrayal by DeLano, as she sees it, so abhorrent—she becomes the character, but her more finely crafted version. One who punishes, who seeks to harm, seeks to win by any means. Who, in her version, defeats Dark, thereby vanquishes DeLano.”

  “And right now, she’s some jealous, vengeful … skank, plotting to kill the woman she feels is ruining the man she wants, the man she needs. She has to troll the clubs,” Eve continued. “She has to spend some time living the life to inhabit that character.”

  “She’ll kill again.”

  “She’ll sure try. If she gets in deep enough, wouldn’t she get stuck? Wouldn’t she stick inside the same character?”

  “It’s a series, and Dark is her adversary each time. She follows Dark. I think she needs the books, the stories, the continuation, and, oddly, the thrill of becoming someone else, someone new.”

  Mira set her teacup aside, rose. “This is a clever woman, one who thinks everything through, step-by-step, but that thinking is limited to the story she lives in. I think a large part of her life has been lived that way, and the world outside’s thin and inconvenient to her. She’ll do whatever she needs to do to stay inside the story where she’s strong and triumphant, and out of the world where she fades into the ordinary.”

  “She’ll like my world, where she ends up in a high-security facility for violent mental defectives, even less.”

  As Mira went out, Peabody came in. “The DeLanos are here.”

  “On my way.”

  “I got one of the other … potentials. She bitched and moaned, but she’s coming in.”

  “Keep at it,” Eve told her, and made her way to Interview A.

  The DeLanos sat beside each other at the interview table, and both looked over at Eve as she came in with nearly identical expressions of anxiety.

  “Has someone else been killed?” Blaine asked.

  “No.”

  “Thank God. Detective Peabody said no, but …”

  “We worked ourselves up,” Audrey admitted. “Convinced ourselves you wanted to tell us in person.”

  “I appreciate you coming in. I did want to talk to you in person, but about some specific correspondence.” Eve sat with the file she’d brought in. “A. E. Strongbow.”

  This time she got nearly identical blank looks.

  “Neither of you recognize the name?”

  Blaine shook her head. “Sorry.”

  “Maybe this’ll help.”

  Eve pulled out the first letter, watched it click for Audrey almost immediately.

  “I do remember. Of course. He sent a manuscript—after a couple of letters, he sent a manuscript. We have a post office box, as some people like to write letters rather than e-mails. He sent his book. Not merely a disc copy or download, which is more usual, but an actual physical copy of the manuscript. It happens, rarely, and when it does I send them back unopened with a letter explaining Blaine can’t read it. And I try to offer a lot of encouragement, maybe some advice on how to find an agent or publisher.”

  Audrey nudged the letter away. “I remember this because when he wrote after Sudden Dark came out, he was furious, and accused Blaine of plagiarizing his manuscript.”

  “Oh, for—” Blaine stopped, held up a hand. “Wait, I remember that, you told me about that. I didn’t remember the name.”

  “I probably didn’t mention his name. It was an ugly letter, and ridiculous on top of it. Not only didn’t Blaine see the manuscript, which I sent straight back unopened, but she’d already written Sudden Dark before he sent his stupid book—without asking, I’ll add. Damn it, we got the ARCs—the advance reader copies—at the end of May, just days after he sent the manuscript. It was so insulting I nearly—”

  “It’s all right, Mom.” Blaine reached over, rubbed her mother’s arm. “When she told me, I let my editor know—just in case. But as far as I know that was the end of it. Do you think he’s involved in this?”

  “She,” Eve corrected. “And I think she’s killed two people.”

  “Oh my God. I didn’t handle it right. I didn’t follow through the right way,” Audrey began.

  “You handled it right,” Eve told her. “This has nothing to do with you. This woman is delusional, psychotic. She contacted you again.”

  “No.” Firmly Audrey shook her head. “I would have flagged any more correspondence from that name.”

  “Twice more I found, different names. Harsh letters.” Eve took them out. “Accusatory.”

  “You get that sometimes,” Blaine murmured as she picked up a copy, read it. “You take the good with the bad. Are you sure these are from the same person?”

  “I’m confident. I believe this woman relocated from Delaware to Brooklyn.”

  “Brooklyn?” Blaine went sheet white. “My girls.”

  “Local police have an eye. And they’re not in this. They’re not in the books. Are there any coordinating characters with them in the series?”

  “No. I don’t understand. If she’s this angry with me, what better way to strike at me than through my girls?”

  “She’s angry with you, but you’ve blended, at least in part, with the character of Dark.”

  “That’s just crazy. Dark is fifteen years younger than I am, in better shape and a lot better-looking.” She said it with a half smile, but her eyes stayed full of fear. “She’s never been married, has no children, eats fast-food, and drinks scotch when she can get it. Her relationship with her mother is strained at best, and for good reason, as Maggie Dark’s a user of people. She likes loud music and bars, breaks rules as much for the fun of it as expediency.”

  Eve listened to the rundown until Blaine stopped herself. “Sor
ry, none of that matters.”

  “Actually, it applies. You talk about her like she’s an actual person.”

  “She has to be real for me. I have to be invested in her, attached. I have to know her. She’s fictional, of course, but she exists inside my head.”

  “She’s real for Strongbow, and she’s lost or is at least losing her grip on the fictional part. You created Dark, she’s inside you. You represent her, or she you. Strongbow’s rewriting your books so the killer wins, because she’s the killer, and it’s her story now.”

  “That was her thing, I remember.” Audrey gripped her daughter’s hand. “The killer’s book, with the killer as the main character, as the protagonist.”

  “She’s connected her book with my Dark series. She’s what, showing me she’s a better writer?”

  “That’s part of it, and it may be the foundation. We’ve got angles on her now, and we’re pursuing them all.”

  DeLano lifted a hand to her heart, rubbed lightly. “You think she’s lives in Brooklyn.”

  “Not in your neighborhood. I don’t think she could afford it. Do you have any tailoring done, any sewing?”

  “Not really. I’ve had—we’ve all had—things altered in the shop we use for the less casual wear.”

  “Do you know the seamstress?”

  “Gia? Yes. For years. When I had my first signing, Mom insisted I get a nice suit, have Gia fit it. That’s been over a decade.”

  Unlikely, Eve thought.

  “Have you had anyone come in and do the curtain things, drapes, whatever?”

  Blaine smiled again. “We’re just not that fancy. Do you think she’s a seamstress?”

  “We believe she may have those skills, whether it’s a job or a hobby. If she submitted her book, she likely did it at your publisher.”

  “I don’t think that happened. They’d have notified me after Mom sent them the letter if they’d gotten a manuscript from that name.”

  “Okay. We’re reading through the books, getting a sense of the story, and particularly of the first victim and killer in each. But it would be helpful if you could send me, we’ll say, a kind of profile on those characters, a basic outline of the crime scenes.”

  “I can and will. I know what you mean.”

  “Good. I’m going to give you the same instructions I did yesterday: Don’t open the door to anyone you don’t know. Nobody comes in the house you don’t know. If you see anything or anyone that makes you uncomfortable, contact your local police, then me.”

  She paused, studying DeLano’s face. “I’m going to add: If beefing up your personal security makes you feel safer, then do that.”

  “I’m going to. My mother, my girls aren’t in the books, but they’re part of me.”

  “We’ll get us some bodyguards.” Audrey added a little shoulder shake to try to lighten her daughter’s worry. “Good-looking ones.”

  “Mom.” DeLano laughed a little, then sighed. “You’ll stop her,” she said to Eve.

  “Let’s say I intend to write the ending.”

  Eve showed them out, went back to her office to add to her notes.

  Minutes later, her interoffice signaled.

  “I’ve got Loxie Flash in A,” Peabody told her. “Do you want me in there?”

  “Keep at what you’re doing. I’ll take her.”

  She wound her way back.

  Loxie Flash fit the physical description of the third victim well enough. Had a few more pounds on her, wore her hair longer, but gave off the same vibe.

  The fuckhead vibe.

  In the book, Bliss Cather had—in the last hours of her life—spiky hair of the palest blond tipped with black. Plenty of piercings on both, though Cather had gone for an eyebrow bar and the live-and-in-person Loxie chose what Eve thought of as a bull ring, a hoop studded through the tender dividing line of the nostrils.

  A lot of tats, plenty of heavy makeup. The skin shirt proclaimed BALL BUSTER over a pair of impressive, unharnessed breasts. Jeans, held together with lacing at the hips, showed a lot of skin.

  Loxie curled her lip, spoke with a raspy verbal sneer. “What the fuck’s your damage, bitch?”

  “Lieutenant bitch.” Eve sat. “And I’m here to tell you a story that might save your life. There’s a woman out there who may be thinking about killing you.”

  “Shit. Bitches don’t want to kill me, assa-hola. Bitches want to be me.”

  “Not this one, maybe because she’s crazy.”

  Loxie curled her lip in an arrogant sneer. “Crazy don’t stop my sleep none.”

  “This one’s about five-six, white. Red hair with blue side dreads. She’ll have a tat of an orange dragon on the inside of her right wrist. She’ll try to look about twenty-five but she’s older.”

  “Old bitches are boring.”

  “She’s not. You’ve seen her around, places you hang out, places you party.”

  “I see a lot of people.”

  “Any of those people look like the person I just described?”

  Loxie shrugged. “If they ain’t on my team, I don’t pay them much mind. Look, Bitch Badge, I gotta sleep. Had a big night.”

  “You had a big night breaking your parole. If you don’t want a big night in a cage, lose the bullshit.”

  Eve shoved the stills from the surveillance feed across the table. “Have you seen her?”

  “Jesus, what is that clucker-fucker wearing? Looks like she got swallowed by ugly. I don’t know people who wear dumb-ass coats covered in lame-ass birds.”

  “You haven’t seen the coat before?”

  “If I’d seen that coat, I’da lit it on fire.”

  “Look at her face, take a good look.”

  “I’m telling you I don’t know this bitch. You think I hang with losers like this?”

  “I’m telling you, if you do see her, keep away from her and contact me. If you see her—white, red hair with blue side dreads, orange dragon tat inside her right wrist—she’s there to kill you.”

  “Bull.” Loxie shot up her index finger. “And shit.” Then her middle.

  “You’d be her third, so she’s had experience. Two people are in the morgue who might’ve claimed bull and shit. Do yourself a favor and stay out of the clubs for a couple weeks, and don’t drink any martinis.”

  “I’m in rehab, bitch. No drinking, no clubbing, no party time.”

  Eve looked into the bloodshot eyes, still glassy from breaking parole. “I don’t give a rat’s ass if you drink yourself into a coma or pop enough Erotica to bang your way from dusk to dawn. Just stay out of the clubs. Stay out of the clubs if you want to live.”

  Leaning forward Eve pushed the photo under Loxie’s nose. “Look at her. Remember her. She’s crazy,” Eve said, “and if she’s fixed on you, she’ll hit you in a club, that’s her plan. She’ll poison you with a martini—pomegranate. Because she’s got the jumps for your ex.”

  “Glaze?” Loxie flicked her fingers in the air—but bright green jealousy flicked in her eyes at the same time. “All hers. I’m done with that fuckhead.”

  “She wants to make sure of it. She doesn’t like you, Loxie. She blames you. Glaze, he doesn’t even know she exists, but she’ll kill you to save him from you, to have him for herself. Get this point: She’s crazy.”

  “Crazy enough to wear that fugly coat.”

  “She won’t be wearing it the next time you see her. Get this in your head. White, red hair with blue side dreads, orange dragon tat on the inside of her right wrist. It’ll be loud, it’ll be crowded when she puts that martini down in front of you. The house band’s going to be playing one of Glaze’s numbers—her request. It’s the last thing you hear before you drink that idiot martini with the cyanide she dropped in it.”

  For the first time Loxie looked worried. Her eyebrows knitted; she gnawed on a thumbnail painted glittery black. “You’re talking about the future, man, and that’s bullshit. How come you know all this?”

  “I read the book.”

&nbs
p; 13

  Eve stopped off at Vending. She wanted something cold, and if the machine gave her grief, well, she’d kick its ass the way regulations had prevented her from kicking Loxie Flash’s.

  She plugged in for a tube of Pepsi. Snagged what it shat out.

  “This is a damn diet cream soda, you fuck.”

  Inappropriate language noted. Fester’s Diet Cream Soda offers classic taste guilt free! There is no nutritional value, and certain additives—listed on request—may pose health risks including—

  “Shut up. Just shut the fuck up and give me my damn Pepsi.”

  Second incident of inappropriate language noted. Warning! A third incident will result in suspension of Vending privileges.

  “Note this. I will rip your circuits out with my bare hands, blast them to oblivion with my police issue if you don’t give me my damn Pepsi.”

  Threats of vandalism will be reported, Harcove, Detective Clint. Acts of vandalism will result in suspension of Vending privileges and a two-thousand-dollar fine, plus cost of damages.

  Eve started to tell the idiot, computerized pain in her ass she wasn’t Harcove, Detective Clint, then reconsidered.

  “Give me the tube of Pepsi I ordered.”

  It shat one out.

  Your account has been charged for one tube of Pepsi. Pepsi, the choice of generations!

  That would be Harcove’s account, Eve thought as the machine spouted off its hype and warnings.

  Two notations of inappropriate language and one threat of vandalism have been added to your file.

  “Yeah.” Eve cracked the tube. “Add this: You can bite me.”

  Eve walked into Homicide. “Peabody!”

  When Peabody looked up, Eve tossed the tube of cream soda.

  “Hey, thanks.”

  “Thank Detective Clint Harcove.”

  “Who’s that?”

  “I have no idea. Progress?”

  “I washed out on my usual shops, but I got some direction from the manager of one I use a lot. How’d it go with Flash?”

  Eve took a moment to drink some Harcove Pepsi. “Skank.”

  “Told you.”

  “Bad-attitude skank with a heavy side of asshole, but I got under her skin by the end of it. She’s warned, she has the description of the unsub, and claims she’s going home to sleep. As she hadn’t yet reached the hungover, strung-out stage of her night’s binge, that I believe.”

 
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