Dark in death, p.2
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       Dark in Death, p.2

         Part #46 of In Death series by J. D. Robb
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  “So coming here was a routine for you. And just the two of you?”

  “Mostly. We’d double-dated here a few times, but mostly people aren’t as into classic vids as we are. It’s, you know, our little thing.”

  “Tell me about this evening. Walk me through it.”

  “Okay.” Lola took a deep breath, swiped her hands over her face. “Chanel was juiced up because she thought she nailed the first callback. We met for a drink when I got off work.”

  “Where?”

  “Toodles, over on Seventh. I work just a couple blocks from there, so she met me. We hit happy hour, split a half carafe of house wine and a plate of mini pierogies. We just talked about stuff, like always. Her callback and, oh, Carmine, this sweet teacup poodle I neutered today. I’m a vet. Then we walked to the theater, talking about the first time each of us saw Psycho, and how it freaked me so I didn’t take a shower for months, and how she watched it over and over to study Janet Leigh’s performance.”

  “Did you notice anyone who seemed to be listening to your conversations? Paying too much attention?”

  “No. I just didn’t.”

  “Okay, keep going.”

  “So we got here early enough to get popcorn and drinks and good seats. The classic theater’s never full, especially on a weeknight, but I really like the aisle seat. And I wanted one especially since I was on call. I hate when people pick their way across the aisle in front of you during a vid. We just settled in, hung out for a couple minutes until it started.”

  “Did anyone speak to either of you? Out in the lobby, in the theater? Did you notice anyone who made you feel uncomfortable?”

  “No, we were talking to each other. I mean, the guy at the concession stand asked if we wanted the special but we didn’t.”

  “Okay. Your initial statement said you came back to your seat and found Chanel. Why did you leave the theater?”

  “I was on call, and my ’link vibrated. Right after Marion had dinner, had the talk with Norman Bates. I had to go out to the lobby to take it. I work at Pet Care, and we run a twenty-four-hour emergency clinic. There’s a vet assistant and a couple of support staff in the clinic at all times, but one of the vets is on call for emergencies. Gloria, the assistant on duty, said we had an emergency coming in.”

  “What kind of emergency?”

  “A dog, struck by a car, and the owner was bringing him right in. I had to go—if the dog needed surgery or had to be put to sleep, they needed a vet. I got some information from Gloria, but she didn’t have much because the owner was panicked and running with the dog. I gave her instructions because he’d probably get there before I could, then I went back to tell … to tell Chanel. I—I sat down for a second, said how I’d missed the big scene. You know, the shower scene, and I was sorry, but I had to go into work. I …”

  Lola covered her face now, rocked. “I put my hand on her arm, I think. I think. She just sort of tipped against me. I started to laugh, I think. Drama queen. Then I … there was blood. I could feel it, smell it, and she wasn’t moving. I’m a little, ah, not sure exactly then.”

  Her hands shook as she lowered them, and her eyes blurred as she tried to focus on Eve. “I think I started screaming. I think I tried to drag her up, and I was screaming for help. I think people were like shut up, sit down. But other people came over, and I think somebody ran for an usher or security or I don’t know. The lights came on, and the vid stopped, and Chanel was lying there.”

  “Lola, did you see anyone come out when you were in the lobby on your ’link? Did you pass anyone going in or out of the theater?”

  “I don’t think so. I was kind of annoyed to be called out, then, well, some poor dog’s hurt, so I was pretty much focused on talking it through with Gloria.”

  “How long do you figure you were out of the theater?”

  “I’m not sure. Maybe four or five minutes. I don’t think more than that. Well.” She shut her eyes. “Wait. I saw it was the nine-one-one signal we use for emergencies. I got up, went out. I went all the way out to the lobby because even with the soundproofing you can kind of hear the vids, just enough to be distracting. I still had my drink, so I walked over to the area where you can sit and eat if you want. I guess there were a few people there, waiting for the next show. I tagged Gloria back, talked to her—a couple minutes, maybe three, because she’s still a little green and I wanted to be sure she prepped. Then I walked back. So however long that was.”

  “Did you see who was sitting in the row behind you?”

  “I didn’t notice. You mostly notice the people in front of you, if they get in the way. Behind or around, if they’re talking or rattling, you know. It was nice and quiet in the vid. People who go to classics are usually really respectful.”

  “What about the dog?”

  “The dog? Oh, oh, God, the dog. I had to tag Gloria. The officer asked me not to say why, just that I had an emergency of my own, and to pull in Carter or Lori.”

  “About how long after you took the emergency tag did you tag them back, tell them to get another vet?”

  “I’m not sure, really not. I guess fifteen or twenty minutes. Maybe even longer. I just forgot about that poor dog.”

  “Understandable. I’m surprised the clinic didn’t tag you again after the owner brought the injured dog in.”

  “He hadn’t gotten there, Gloria said.”

  Eve only nodded. “He must’ve been running a long way. Is there someone we can contact for you, Lola? Someone you’d want to stay with you?”

  “I don’t think I can go back to our apartment yet. I just don’t think I can stand that until I … I’m sort of seeing this guy. Maybe I can go to his place for a while. Maybe.”

  “Do you want us to contact him for you, have him come and get you?”

  Eyes welling again, Lola nodded.

  “Give me his contact information. We’ll take care of it. I’m going to have the officer take you out to the lobby, stay with you.”

  “Will you talk to me again? When you know … when you know, will you tell me?”

  “Yes. And if you think of anything else, you contact me.” Eve reached into her own pocket—almost surprised to actually produce cards. Gave one to Lola.

  Eve called the uniform back, gave her the friend’s contact information. Then turned her attention to the three people across the theater.

  She chose one at random, sat down beside him. “I’m Lieutenant Dallas.”

  “Um. Mark Snyder.”

  “You came to the vid alone, Mr. Snyder?”

  “Yeah. I wanted to absorb it, without distractions. I’m a film student. I, ah …” He clasped his hands together, stared at the blank screen. “I’m working on my master’s at NYU. Oh boy, this is really, really real.”

  Though she’d run him, Eve judged him to be in his early twenties, a young black man with wild and improbably red dreads, a bar stud through his left eyebrow.

  “Why this vid?”

  “Hitchcock. I’m doing a paper on Hitchcock, and this particular work is a major part of the paper. But I, but I—Sorry.”

  He pressed a hand to his stomach, spent a couple of seconds breathing. “I—I love film. I want to direct. The classics are a particular inspiration to me. I come here a lot. The classics, at least two or three times a month and, in general, probably twice that. It’s a different, ah, experience watching in a theater than on a home screen or a mobile.”

  “Where were you sitting?”

  “In the same row as … the same row. In the center seat. We were the only ones in the row. I like to sit alone as much as I can, but I sort of knew them—the women. I mean, I’d seen them here off and on, and I knew they’d be quiet. Not talking during the vid or being distracting, so I sat in the center seat.”

  “Tell me what happened.”

  “It was—it was right after Bates cleans up the bathroom, after the shower scene. He’s going to wrap Marion’s body in the shower curtain, put her and her luggage and the mone
y she stole and wrapped in newspaper in her car and sink it in the swamp. Perkins is amazing, he’s perfect. You believe him. You believe he’s horrified, panicked, protecting his crazy mother. I was studying the work, his expressions, his body language, and she started screaming.”

  He took a moment to swallow. “The woman on the aisle, I mean. It jerked me out, pulled me out of the story. I was annoyed for a second, but then I realized it was one of the women in the row, the ones I sort of knew. So I knew something was really wrong, because they’re respectful. And the way she was screaming—I’m sorry, I don’t know her name. The one with the darker hair. I stood up. I could see something was wrong with the other woman. The blond woman. I thought she’d gotten sick or something. I started over, and the couple there?”

  He gestured to the man and woman seated in another section. “They started over, too. From the other side. They were together on the other side, so we got there, and … there was blood, and the screaming, and they said—the other couple—to go for help, to get the lights on while they laid down the one with the blood in the aisle. I ran out, and part of me—in my head—kept running. Like a vid in my head. But I grabbed somebody from the lobby, and told him somebody in number three was hurt really bad. We needed an ambulance. They needed to turn on the houselights. She was bleeding really bad.

  “I don’t know why I went back in, because in my head I was running away. The woman of the couple—not the one with the, with the one who got hurt, but the couple who tried to help. She’s a—God, I can’t find my words. A physician assistant. She said that, and she had blood on her, and she told people to stay back. I sat down, I just sat down because I didn’t think I could stand up. And then the police came.”

  “Did you notice anyone sitting in the row behind you?”

  “Not behind me, but behind them. At the end of the row. I really didn’t want anyone in my box, if you know what I mean. Within my area. In front, beside, behind. And there were lots of empty spots. I saw somebody slide into the row behind right after the houselights went down, and would’ve moved if he’d come toward the center. But he just sat behind them.”

  “A man.”

  “I … I don’t know. I didn’t look so much as sense. The houselights were down, and the opening credits starting to roll. I hate people who come in late, so I sensed the movement, figured I’d just move if he came into my box, but he didn’t. Or she. Honestly, it was dark, and it didn’t matter if it was a man or a woman to me. It was a corner-of-the-eye sort of thing.”

  “Was he or she there when you heard and reacted to the screams?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “You stood up, started across the row. Was there anyone behind the women?”

  “Give me a sec, okay?” He shut his eyes. “I’m going to visualize it. I don’t want to, but I will. I’m watching Anthony Perkins embody Norman Bates, because he does. He becomes and you as the audience believe. And she screams. To my right, she screams. The really, really pretty blonde is slumped over the brunette with the soft eyes. The brunette’s screaming, struggling to lift her friend. And I know something’s very wrong. Very wrong, so I stand up. Some people are yelling for her to shut up, but I know something’s just wrong, so I start over, and see the man and woman start over from the other section. And …

  “No.” He opened his eyes. “Nobody was sitting behind them when I stood up. The whole row behind was empty.”

  “Okay, Mark, that’s very helpful.” Eve dug in her pocket to give him a card. “If you think of anything else, if you get a better sense of the person who sat behind them, contact me. Do you need a ride home?”

  “I think I want to walk. I think I need to walk.” He got up when Eve did. “You think the person who sat behind them killed her.”

  “I need to find out.”

  “I wish I’d looked. I wish I’d just turned my head a couple inches to the right and looked. I have good visual skills. If I’d looked, I’d be able to tell you what the person looked like. But I didn’t look. I just thought: Good, not going to push into my box, and the vid’s starting. Then I was inside the vid until the screams. Forty-five seconds.”

  “What’s forty-five seconds?”

  “Sorry, the shower scene. It runs for forty-five brilliant, terrifying seconds. I just wonder if the last thing she saw before … if the last thing she saw was murder.”

  Forty-five seconds, Eve thought when he walked away.

  More than enough time to kill.

  2

  While sweepers in their white suits sucked and brushed and tweezed and collected, Eve sat at the back of the crime scene working on her notes.

  The scene itself, the witness statements, the timing, and what she knew about the victim already told her a great deal.

  When McNab bounced in on his plaid airboots, the symphony of hoops on his earlobe glinting in the bright houselights, she paused in her work.

  “Reviewed the feed straight through from the time the vic came in—that’s seventeen-forty-eight—until the first responders entered. Eighteen-thirty-nine. Nobody left through the lobby or using emergency exits from your TOD until the show let out in number one at eighteen-thirty-five. Then you’ve got maybe a hundred and fifty, and at least forty percent of them under twelve, streaming out.”

  “Odds are he walked out with that group.” Eve looked down to row twenty-eight. “He kills her, slips out of here, walks down to the other theater. Just has to hang there for a few minutes, then stroll out with a bunch of kids.

  “We need to look for people coming in earlier, hanging out in the lobby. Anyone who moved toward the theaters when the vic did. And anyone who came in directly after her. Most probably solos. See who we can match with the group leaving from one.”

  “I can cover that.” He slipped his hands into two of the half dozen pockets in his atomic-blue baggies. “You ever see it? Psycho?”

  “Yeah. It’s in Roarke’s collection. He’s a fan of the Hitchdick.”

  “The what?”

  “The director guy.”

  “Is that really his name?”

  “Something like that.”

  “Huh. So really creepy vid. Seriously old and creepy. Maybe it’s not just chance, right? Maybe some psycho picked Psycho, and the vic? Wrong place, wrong time.”

  “Nope. Specific target.” Eve rose as Peabody came in. “The vic’s friend and vid mate’s a vet. On call for emergency detail tonight. And she happens to get a nine-one-one from the clinic that takes her out of the theater right before the vic’s jabbed. Plus it’s looking bogus.”

  “The friend didn’t get the tag?” Peabody asked.

  “No, she got it. The clinic got it. Some guy claiming his dog got run over and—”

  “Oh, poor doggie!”

  Eve sent Peabody a sour look. “There was no dog. The dog was bullshit, a ploy to remove Lola Kawaski and give the killer a clear shot at Chanel Rylan.

  “Timed it,” Eve continued. “The timing’s perfect. And so’s the research. The killer knew Rylan would be here, knew Kawaski was on call, knew when the big shower scene would hit, and anybody who’d shelled out to see this vid would be focused on the screen.”

  “Or covering their eyes.” McNab wagged his thumb at Peabody.

  “I did … so,” Peabody admitted. “None of the people I talked to saw anything. One guy thinks maybe he noticed somebody leaving, but it’s an indefinite maybe. He was in the back, watching the slice and dice with his date’s face buried in his shoulder.”

  “Timing,” Eve repeated. “He had it worked out.”

  “And he knew her,” Peabody put in.

  “Yeah, knew her, chose her, stalked her, studied her. The question is why. The vic was an actress who supplemented that income working at someplace called Broadway Babies.”

  “I love that place! We love that place.”

  McNab grinned at Peabody. “Dorky fun.”

  “I like dorky fun. Jeez, she might’ve waited on us.”

  “T
he friend says the vic was up for a part. Maybe somebody didn’t want her to get it. Killed in a theater.” Eve shrugged. “It could play. No current relationship, no recent breakups, but maybe she brushed off somebody who didn’t like being brushed. She was a switch-hitter, so we look at both teams.”

  “It feels a little impersonal for relationship revenge,” Peabody pointed out.

  “Agreed, but we look so we can close that line off. Plus there’s enough personal in it for that look. This night, this theater, the bogus dog emergency. McNab, copy the security feed to my home unit. I want to take a look. And why don’t you give whoever’s in charge here the bad news that this theater will be sealed off and shut down until further notice.”

  “No prob.”

  “I got one more.”

  “I’m here to serve, LT.”

  “The animal clinic. Pet Care on Seventh. Hit that on your way home, will you? See if you can tap where that emergency call came from. If you need to take the e-toys in, tag me, and I’ll get the clearance.”

  “All over it and back again.”

  “Peabody, since you like the Babies place, let’s go swing by there, see what we see.”

  “Yay!”

  Eve saw her partner and the e-ace bump wiggling fingers—their strange little gesture of affection—before McNab pulled a bright purple earflap hat over his head and long blond ponytail.

  Since they didn’t mortify her by locking lips, she ignored it.

  Outside, she and Peabody hiked the two blocks to the overpriced underground lot through the unrelenting insanity of Times Square.

  They wound through the drunks, the revelers, the gawking tourists, the hustlers, and the street-level licensed companions while lights flashed and mega screens hawked designer fashion worn by pouty and sexually ambiguous models.

  Eve caught the eye of a street thief, watched him wisely turn on his heel and head fast in the opposite direction. His coat—likely with several of the loot pockets already holding wallets and wrist units—flapped around his legs.

 
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