Dark in death, p.20
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       Dark in Death, p.20
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         Part #46 of In Death series by J. D. Robb

  “We are!”

  “That’s not how she wrote it. She’s going to think about that when she catches Nadine’s report.”

  She found a parking spot that required a two-block walk. What fell out of the sky now was a cold and bitter rain, the sort that made her hate February with every cell in her body.

  And still she found that icy wet less of a chore than time spent in the bright, patterned, swirling world of the Sewing Basket.

  Big bolts of fabric rose in stacks on tables, hanks and balls of yarn hung from walls. Spools of thread—huge to tiny—formed pyramids or towers. Buttons—also huge to tiny—glinted and glowed.

  Why had she never noticed that buttons with two holes looked like faces with empty eyes? Why had she never considered that?

  Big, cheerful signs marked sections: BUTTON WORLD, YARN CITY, ON NEEDLES AND PINS.

  But the worst of it, the part that made her back itch, were the fake people—men, women, children, even household pets—suspended from the ceiling.

  And they all smiled.

  Peabody pressed both hands to her chest. “Oh my God!”

  “I know. They dress fake people, they give them fake dogs and cats wearing coats and vests and, Jesus, little hats, then they hang them. It’s just sick.”

  “How have I missed this place? Oh, look at the colors on that Egyptian cotton! It would make a mag duvet cover. Maybe it’ll go on sale. Oh, and those yarns, the pastels look like Easter eggs! Spring sweaters!”

  The voice, the eyes, sparkled, and had Eve taking a hard grip on Peabody’s arm. “No.”

  “If I could just—”

  “No. Ride your hobbyhorse off duty.”

  Music played. Not loudly, but it hit the obsessively chirpy level on Eve’s personal gauge. The way customers—men, women, children, and household pets—packed the place told her Peabody had a lot of company on that hobbyhorse.

  A woman scurried by hauling a bolt of something pink and shiny topped by a bolt of something white and frothy.

  Eve risked releasing Peabody to snag her.

  “We need the manager.”

  “Oh, um …” Obviously distracted, the woman glanced around. “She was just here.”

  “That pink shantung is gorgeous,” Peabody commented.

  “Isn’t it? And perfect for a girl’s ballet recital, with this tulle?”

  “So sweet!”

  “Manager,” Eve repeated.

  “Oh, yes, Karleen … There she is! In the midnight mohair gradated tunic and ebony velvet slimmers. I’d take you back to her, but the young diva and her mother are waiting for these fabrics.”

  “What the hell is a gradated tunic?”

  “It’s the mohair yarn that’s gradated. I see her.”

  All the way back through the maze of tables, the towers, the stacks, Peabody made yummy noises and wistful sighs.

  14

  They found the manager—long sweater in varying blended blues—in an intense discussion with a man in a fitted vest, a precisely knotted tie, and a topcoat over his arm.

  The tone reminded her of people whose views closely aligned discussing some political event. Apparently this had to do with the weight of yarn and the size of hooks.

  They both appeared to be very passionate.

  “Excuse me.” Eve held up her badge. “Lieutenant Dallas, Detective Peabody. We contacted you earlier.”

  The woman who looked like someone’s sensible grandmother, despite the bun on the top of her head wrapped up in some sort of yarny thing that matched the sweater, patted a hand on the man’s arm.

  “Give me a minute, Sherwood.”

  “Of course, Karleen. I’ll be over with the alpaca. Lovely scarves, ladies. Your own handiwork?”

  Eve just pointed at Peabody.

  “I used Angel brand Black Knight, medium weight, number nine needles for the main body and seven for the thin stripe. For mine, it’s In the Pink alternating every six rows with White Knight then Sing the Blues, using a seventeen because I wanted it really chunky.”

  “May I?” He took the end of Peabody’s scarf, examined it—one side, the other. “Lark’s head knot for the fringe?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Really exceptional work.”

  “Thank you. I’ve worked with alpaca a couple times for special projects, but it’s usually out of my range. It’s just a fabulous store, and I’m coming back on my day off. I could spend hours.”

  Eve’s patience frayed like a sloppily sewed seam. “Yeah, it’s great, but we really need to speak with the clerk about that fabric.”

  “Of course, of course. That was Lydia. Let’s go hunt her down. I’ll be back with you shortly, Sherwood.”

  “Take your time, dear.”

  “Lydia should be … Yes, yes, there she is. In silks. Lydia?”

  The clerk set a bolt of red on a stack of jewel tones, and turned.

  Mid-twenties, Eve judged, in a short green dress with brass buttons running down the front and back, green tights with colorful socks topping a pair of short boots.

  “These are police officers.”

  “Oh, well, jeez.”

  “It’s about some fabric you sold.”

  “Was something wrong with it?”

  “We’re interested in who bought it.” Eve pulled out the photo. “This fabric, this woman.”

  “That’s Playful Penguins. Look, Karleen, she made a coat with it.”

  “Yes, I see. Interesting choice. Apparently she bought five yards, Lydia, in the Black Friday sale.”

  “Oh man, that was a crazy day. I mean ca-ra-zee!”

  “Do you remember the sale?” Eve pressed.

  “Honestly, after a couple of hours, I barely remembered my name. We sold this mostly for craft projects, right, Karleen?”

  “That’s right. Take a moment, think back. I’m just going to go get what we have left of the bolt. We opened at eight,” Karleen reminded her as she hurried off.

  “How could I forget?” The clerk’s eyes shot to the heavens. “We had regulars waiting for us to open the doors. A lot of them brought friends. Plus we had specials for the first fifty customers—and those were gone in about twenty minutes.”

  “The penguin fabric,” Eve reminded her.

  “Yeah, I was in fabrics all day. Yarns and tools got hit even harder, but we sold miles. A lot of holiday-theme fabric for crafts, and batting. I had to break up what looked like it was going to be a fight over the last three yards of Peace on Earth, which is kind of ironic, and luckily we had another bolt in the back, but … five yards of Playful Penguins.”

  Karleen came back with the bolt. Eve decided it was just as ugly in person.

  “This is the last of it. It looks like about two yards. You can certainly take it with you if you need it. It’s fifty-four inches wide, and it was marked down to twelve-ninety-nine a yard on Black Friday. Another twenty-five percent discount for any purchase of five yards or more from the same bolt.”

  “That’s right!” Lydia shot a finger in the air. “I forgot that. Five yards, five.” Lydia closed her eyes, put her hands over her face, ticked her head right and left. “I think I remember, a little. It’s the five yards, the extra discount. Wanted four? She said four yards, and I said if you buy five, you get another twenty-five percent off—so under ten a yard.”

  She dropped her hands. “It’s what I said to anybody who wanted three to four yards, so it’s pretty blurry. And like I said, we were just slammed. But I sort of remember.”

  “Can you describe her?”

  “I couldn’t even start to, I’m really sorry. She wasn’t a regular. I’d remember a regular.”

  “Take a look at her picture again.” Eve held it out. “It might help bring it back.”

  “You can’t really see her. Did she do something really wrong?”

  “Yes.”

  “She wasn’t mean or rude or loud or pushy. You remember the ones who are, and I don’t. I’d have asked if she needed anything else, like you
do. Thread or buttons and so on. Maybe somebody else helped her and would remember.”

  “She only bought the five yards,” Karleen said. “Cash sale. Lydia says she wasn’t a regular, but if she made that coat she’s no novice. I’m sorry we can’t be of more help.”

  “It was a long shot,” Eve admitted. “If she comes back in, contact me immediately. Don’t confront her, but stall if possible.”

  Karleen took the card Peabody offered. “If she comes in wearing the coat, we won’t miss her. I’ll let the rest of the staff know. Officer Peabody—”

  “Ah, Detective.”

  “Detective, Sherwood wants you to have this.” She offered Peabody a shopping bag.

  “Oh, that’s really nice, but we’re not supposed to …”

  She peeked in, all but moaned. “It’s alpaca,” she murmured, as if to a lover as she drew out skeins of soft blue, tender rose, cloudy white, and fine sand.

  “Sherwood said an artist deserves good, fresh paint.”

  “It’s so thoughtful, so … nice. But I really can’t.”

  “I should add Sherwood owns the store—and the alpacas. He’d be very disappointed if you didn’t accept.”

  “I …”

  “I’m looking the other way,” Eve grumbled.

  “Really?”

  “I’m walking out. If you see her,” Eve repeated, “contact me.”

  Peabody gathered the bag to her breasts. “Please thank him for me. I can’t wait to … I can’t wait! And I’ll be back—off duty.”

  She rushed after Eve, too thrilled to remember to linger over the Egyptian cotton. “Thanks.”

  “I didn’t give you anything, and I didn’t see anything. And I don’t want to hear about your new boyfriend.”

  “He can be my yarn boyfriend. McNab will understand.”

  “Where’s the skank’s apartment, and pull your damn nose out of the bag I don’t see.”

  “A block past where we parked.”

  “Good, then you can put that bag I don’t see and you’re not carrying in the car before you fall into an alpaca coma.”

  “I think I’ve had a couple of alpaca orgasms, but no coma.”

  “Keep your weird wool orgasms to yourself.”

  “Actually, it’s hair—alpaca hair into fiber into—”

  “Shut up, and put that damn bag I don’t see in the car. She bought an extra yard,” Eve continued, “because of the discount. So she falls for sales. Or she figured she’d use the other yard for something. She’s not a regular, but she knew the place, heard about it, saw an ad, whatever, and hit it on a major sale day.”

  Peabody secured the bag. “It’s covering her tracks. She doesn’t think the cops are going to put it together, but just in case we do, she buys the material in a place where she’s not familiar, and on a day not only for bargains, but crowds. When the clerks are slammed. The odds are, if we got this far, we’d dead-end. And that’s where we are.”

  “But smarter to buy something plain, something unremarkable we’d never have been able to trace to a vendor. She buys something unique, noticeable. Because under it all, she craves just that. Being noticed.

  “It’s a weakness. It’ll break her down in the end.”

  “If her next target’s on the list of people we’ve notified, and if they actually listen, we’ll have more time.” Peabody gestured toward a building.

  “Working the names, I narrowed the clubs, too. They do club crawls and hit off-places, but mostly all of them stick to the hot spots.”

  “Narrow those down by the book.” Eve opted to master her way into the building. “It’ll be licensed for consensual sex and have privacy rooms. Licensed for performance nudity—live performances, not holos. Add the high-dollar drinks, celebrity sightings, VIP sections.”

  “I’ll whittle it down.”

  Considering the brownie she’d devoured, Peabody didn’t complain even in her head about using the stairs. Plus Yola Bloomfield lived on the second floor.

  Yola had decorated her door with a hex sign and an artful little drawing of two scaly skinned demons copulating.

  “She paints,” Peabody explained. “Calls her work Op-X-Art, as in the opposite of the expected.”

  “On the other hand, that’s just what I expect demons to do when they’re not munching human intestines,” Eve pointed out. “Unexpected would be to have them dancing under a rainbow in a meadow.”

  She hit the buzzer.

  “It could be a series,” Peabody considered. “First they munch, then they dance, then they have demon sex.”

  “Expected again. Standard date, any species.”

  “I’m probably going to have nightmares.”

  Eve buzzed again, longer.

  On the second, she got a “What the fuck do you want?” from the speaker.

  “NYPSD.” She held up her badge. “We need to speak with Yola Bloomfield.”

  She heard the snick of locks, the rattle of chains, the slide of bolts.

  If you dismissed the orange and black hair tied with some sort of rag on top of her head, the woman who opened the door didn’t look like a skank.

  She wore a shapeless, paint-splattered shirt over ragged jeans and ratty house skids. Other than the trio of hoops through her right eyebrow, her face was unadorned and unpainted.

  She smelled of paint and soap.

  “What the hell? I’m clean for four months, just had my regular test two days ago.”

  “We’re not here about illegals.”

  “Good, because I haven’t had so much as a puff of Zoner for four months. What do you want? I’m working.”

  “If we can come in, we’ll tell you, and get out of your way.”

  “Fine. Fuck.”

  She waved a hand, left the door open as she stalked away into a room she obviously used as her studio.

  Rather than a sofa, a chair, a screen, or anything usually found in a living space, she had a long, burly workbench and a big shelf crowded with painting supplies. Easels, canvases, something green and cloudy in a tall, clear cup Eve took for solvent until Yola picked it up, gulped some down.

  On the walls paintings and drawings of various forms of violence and misery crowded together. More demons (no rainbows), an enormous bat with the head of a man, a woman in a pool of blood at the feet of a hooded man, a winged woman running a forked tongue down the torso of a screaming woman in chains.

  The one on the easel centered at the window still gleamed wet. A variety of crawling, flying, slithering things came out of a wide, jagged chasm in what appeared to be Times Square. The sky swirled red. People ran screaming while others were consumed.

  “You can sit on the floor.”

  “We’ll stand.”

  Yola shrugged, plopped on the single stool in the room. “Look, I’m not so pissed off at the rehab shit. I did my ninety, and I’m not bitching about the unscheduled tests. I’m clean, and I’m working better because I’m clean. Clear mind. I’m drinking veg smoothies. Clean out the toxins, get healthy. I’m chilled.”

  “Good for you. We’re here because your name came up during the course of our investigation into two murders.”

  “Fuck that!”

  “You’re not a suspect, Ms. Bloomfield, but a potential target.”

  “Fuck that squared.”

  Peabody walked the photo over. “Do you know or have you seen this woman?”

  “Can’t see her anyway, and does she look like somebody I’d hook with? I’ve got standards, and she’s below the line.”

  “She’s already killed twice.”

  “What’s she got against me?”

  “She’s delusional, Ms. Bloomfield.”

  Eve held back, let Peabody take point.

  “She’s reenacting murder scenes from books.”

  “No shit? Now that’s iced.” Yola toasted with her veg smoothie. “Serious performance art.”

  “You won’t admire the concept if you end up in the morgue.”

  “Harsh.” Conside
ring, Yola drank again. “So what’s my scene, what’s my part? Death’s the ultimate, sure, but I’m not going there yet.”

  “The killer will be obsessed with your ex.”

  “Which ex?”

  “Stone Bailey.”

  “The Stoner?” Yola let out a hard laugh. “I haven’t bumped uglies with him since I got busted. He’s the reason I did, the asshole. And now that I’m clean, I got the big fuck-off from him. How about I tell this whack job she can have him. Not that she’ll get the chance. He can’t lay off the Zeus, can’t lay off the tits and ass.” She gestured to the bat painting.

  “I did that one to remind me. He’s a fucking vampire.”

  “In her mind you’re preventing him from reaching his potential as a musician, as a man.”

  “Bogus.”

  “It won’t matter. The character in the book poisons the victim in a club. She puts cyanide in a martini—a pomtini.”

  Yola made gagging noises. “I wouldn’t drink that shit if I was still using and stoned stupid. You’re running the wrong way. I want to get back to work.”

  “She won’t look like she does in the picture,” Eve put in. “When she moves on the person she’s chosen to represent the character, she’ll blend into the club scene. She’s white, about five-six. She’ll have red hair with blue side dreads. She’ll have an orange dragon on the inside of her right wrist.”

  “I don’t care how she looks, she won’t be looking at me.”

  Yola started to drink again, stopped, slowly lowered the glass. “Orange dragon?”

  “That’s right. You’ve seen her.”

  “Orange dragon. It was fierce. I did some sketches.”

  She hopped up, grabbed a couple of sketchbooks, pawed through. “Yeah, yeah. Fierce. See?”

  Eve looked down at the sketch of a dragon, keen teeth bared, lethal tail coiled to strike.

  “Where did you see her?”

  “I don’t know. Maybe Hellfire, maybe Screw U. It could’ve been Dive Down. Look, I hit the clubs now and then. I don’t use, and I’ve been keeping it to a couple brews. I go for inspiration, take my sketchbook. Yeah, I connect with people, and I’ve gotten a ram-bam. Nobody said I couldn’t have sex, right? I hit one of the clubs two, three times a week, maybe bounce between. I’m going to say I saw Orange Dragon a couple weeks back, maybe.”

 
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