Dark in death, p.22
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       Dark in Death, p.22
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         Part #46 of In Death series by J. D. Robb

  “You could’ve stayed in the major rehab overnight.”

  He danced those clever fingers down her arm. “Then I wouldn’t have my cop and my cat. Unless you’re starved, why don’t we just sit in front of that very nice fire for a bit?”

  “I was worried,” she confessed. “I didn’t know I was worried until I wasn’t, but I was.”

  “Well, I’m sorry for that. I’m not late home,” he added as they sat on the sofa.

  “The weather, I guess. The day.” She shrugged it off.

  “And what was the day?”

  “It was the Day of the Skanks and the Strange Interlude of the Crafts.”

  “Obviously, I want to hear about the skanks, at the very least.”

  “What perv wouldn’t?”

  So she told him, punched in what she’d learned at the craft store, from the bartender, and ended with the morbid artist.

  “But it’s not about them—the possible victims. Not as much about them as the rocker guy. The motive. The killer’s obsessive love—and it’s not really love—is what drives her.”

  “Which is why you have all those new faces on the board.”

  “The trouble is, they’re not much different from one another. Physical appearance, sure, but they’re a type. The image, the lifestyle. In the book, she kills the obstacle while he’s present. But that’s just one of the ways she went wrong, so I don’t think that’s going to be a factor for Strongbow. Unless …”

  “Unless some part of her maintains enough reality to know the obsession ends for her after the murder. The murder is the goal.”

  “Yeah. Trying to think like her gives me a damn headache. Add the fact that she’s certainly laid the groundwork for the book after this one, so she has to shift those realities. From this obsessed skanky fan type to the saintly, obedient son—who’s really a greedy bastard—who kills his wealthy mother and pins it on his screwup of a sister. And how does she pull that off anyway?”

  “It’s no wonder it gives you a headache.”

  “Under it all, whoever she coats herself in, she’s one woman. And that woman knows how to sew, watches her pennies, came from Delaware. Lives alone. Is likely in her forties. If I get a sketch out of that bartender, it’s going to turn this around. Whatever mask she puts on to haunt the clubs, she’s going to show through.”

  “You said the bartender described her as a loner, and not very friendly. But in the book, as I recall those scenes, people knew her by name.”

  “Yeah, she was part of that scene in the book. I figure either Strong-bow couldn’t pull that off, or she saw it as a mistake in the plot. The killer blends, but goes unnoticed. Except the bartender noticed and remembered her, because she didn’t really blend.”

  “Or can’t,” Roarke suggested. “Think of the woman you described. She sews, watches her pennies, is likely twenty years older than many in the club, she lives through books. The writing and the reading.”

  “She doesn’t know how,” Eve mused. “It’s not hard to figure out how to book a street-level LC. You can be nervous, look out of place. They don’t care, and they get all kinds. Anybody can sit in the dark at a vid.”

  “But weaving yourself into a club scene, and these particular kinds of clubs?” As she did, Roarke studied the board. “It’s more than being able to craft a reversible coat or doctor a drink. It’s attitude, it’s vernacular.”

  “A woman sitting alone at the bar at that kind of place, she’s going to get hit on by somebody who figured to get laid up in a privacy room. She can’t do that, not even living inside the character. Not just because she needs to observe, but she can’t get that personal and stay unnoticed.”

  “The fuck-off tends to discourage most.”

  “Yeah, especially since there are plenty in there who’ll give you a roll with less effort. She’s already altered the character there.”

  Rising, Eve walked back to her board. “Still, one of these has to be the object. The vic is the obstacle. It’s not going to matter if he’s on scene at the killing, but he matters. Until he doesn’t.”

  “Why don’t we eat, then I’ll see if I can help you find him?”

  “Yeah. I’ve got Peabody on it, too.”

  Roarke lifted the domes. “This looks dead perfect. What is it?”

  “It said pork and beer stew. I figured if there’s beer it’d neutralize the vegetables.” And she’d programmed a single bowl first, prepared to ditch it if it looked awful. It hadn’t, and the smell had done the rest.

  “I fed the cat while I was in there,” she added, which explained why Galahad was currently sprawled in her sleep chair in a kibble-with-tuna-chaser coma.

  She sampled some stew, decided the beer did help the healthy parts go down easy.

  “You know, Nadine’s hooked with that rock guy. Maybe he knows some of those guys.”

  “Possibly, though I don’t think Kincade or the band’s played the small club scene in more than a decade. Big venues, major tours. ‘Hooked with’?” he asked. “Going out a time or two doesn’t necessarily lead to the ‘hooked with,’ does it?”

  “I had her come in for a one-on-one today, and I poked her a little about him. She got flustered and … girl-like. Maybe I’m not supposed to say how she was and what she said about it. She didn’t say, ‘Don’t say how I was or what I said,’ but maybe it’s supposed to be understood.”

  Trying to walk that minefield gave Eve another headache.

  “One of those stupid unwritten rules,” she complained, “which make them impossible to keep track of.”

  Because he knew her, Roarke followed the convoluted logic. “Before you tangle yourself up in the invisible, I have to say it’s already too late. So, she fancies him then?”

  “I guess—if that means she’s got some hots going for him, in American.”

  “It does. We could have them to dinner sometime. And you could grill him like a trout.”

  Maybe she’d enjoy that, maybe she would. But … “She’s all grown up and capable of making her own decisions on who she’s banging and hooked with. Besides …” Eve ate more stew.

  “You ran him, didn’t you now?”

  “Yeah, sure. So?”

  He laughed, grabbed her hand to kiss it. “I’d say having a man you may be or become serious about run by a cop when that cop is your friend is one of those unwritten rules.”

  “It ought to be actually written down somewhere, if you ask me.”

  “Either way. Well then, let’s have it. Do we have to worry about our Nadine being hooked with a scoundrel?”

  She pointed at him with her spoon. “That’s a fancy word, and it comes off like a compliment. Jake Kincade was arrested about fifteen years ago for assault, disturbing the peace, and destruction of property. All charges were dropped, as numerous witness statements, and three videos—as some people in the bar where this occurred got right on that—clearly showed the drunk asshole he eventually ass-kicked dogging him, then taking a couple of swings. Which Kincade avoided. It also showed Kincade turning his back on said drunk asshole, walking away, just as it showed the asshole jumping him from behind, and getting in a couple of rabbit punches before Kincade shoved him off. At which time the asshole grabbed a chair, threw it at Kincade, went back for more. Then, and only then, did Kincade kick his ass, which thoroughly deserved it.”

  He caught the admiration in her tone, understood it. Agreed with it. “So, he can handle himself.”

  “Sounds like. Other than that, no arrests. A lot of speeding tickets. A serious lot of speeding tickets—all over hell and back. He bought his mother a house.”

  “Is that so?”

  “When their first recording hit pretty big, he bought his mother a house. All five original band members are still with it, and two of them have been pals with him—and each other—since they were kids. One of them’s done a couple of stints in rehab, had some bumps, but not Kincade. He’s never been married, but he did cohab with a woman—same woman—for about six years.
That’s been off for almost as long. He owns a converted warehouse downtown—I bet it’s not bollocks coincidence that it’s on Avenue A—and outfitted it into a recording studio. He lives there, too.”

  She shrugged. Roarke smiled.

  “You’re all right with it then?”

  “It’s not for me to be all right with it or not. And if Nadine didn’t check him out, I’ll eat raw turnips for a week.”

  “I think you and turnips are safe there, as I agree with you.”

  “Back to the point, he might know something about these guys that doesn’t show on a run. The attitude, the personal choices that don’t rise up to data. I could tap Nadine about tapping him on it, so it’s not weird.”

  “Is she happy?”

  “I guess. Off her stride some, but she still landed the one-on-one where we aimed it. And I’m hoping that throws Strongbow off stride some. She’s—shit, I forgot—she took Quilla on. Quilla, the kid from Higher Power.”

  “She …” Obviously surprised, he sat back a moment with his wine. “Nadine’s fostering a teenage girl? That’s considerably more than off her stride.”

  “No, no, hired her. Or whatever it’s called. As an intern. She wanted to mentor somebody, so—”

  “I recall that now, remember her saying something about that. And you telling her you might have someone in mind. You had Quilla in mind.”

  “Struck me, that’s all. Smart kid, pushy but smart—and so’s Nadine. Smart and pushy. Anyway, she brought the kid with her to my office. Quilla said they had a tour of the new shelter.”

  “There’s been enough progress for it, and we’ve the core of the staff hired.”

  “She was juiced about it, about it being ready in a couple months. But the memorial on the roof, that meant a lot. She snuck away from the group—no surprise there. But she did it to stay up there awhile because it meant a lot.”

  “That’s good to know. You may have changed her life by pointing her at Nadine.”

  “That’s up to them.”

  “It is, yes, but you did the pointing. You gave them both the choice. Summerset changed my life, then you turned it yet again. The badge changed yours.”

  “Yeah, then you turned it again. Pretty much upside down.”

  “We’ve righted ourselves, darling Eve. Won’t it be interesting to see where these new connections, relationships, take Nadine?”

  She started to speak, then turned around in her chair to look at the board. “The skank list—they tend to know each other, compete or hang. Go to the same clubs, shop in the same shops, frequent the same restaurants or events. It’s like that with the motive list. They’re all in the same business, more the same subset of that business. There’s going to be overlap on who’s laying who. In the book, the victim and the motive had—or had had—a serious, if twisted and unhealthy, relationship. At the same time …”

  She got up, walked to the board. “The killer—our killer—isn’t a part of that world like the character of the killer in the book. She’s absorbed the role, but her experience is limited. Peabody called this group skanks because they basically are. They dress like it, act like it, fuck around like it. Peabody—Free-Ager, cop, monogamous relationship. Sews, crafts, bakes. She’s a cop, a good one, and she knows how the world works, knows what’s in it, but still, she’s outside this particular world. So when she looked at a group like this, she puts them together in one lump of skank.”

  “Interchangeable, you’re saying.”

  “Yeah. She knows better, and she knows how to separate them into individuals. But Strongbow? They’re all the same.”

  “You think it won’t matter which? She’d kill any of them?”

  “I think I was off figuring she focused on one here, two at the most. I think we find out which ones have had a thing—even just a quick bang-in-the-dark thing—with more than one of the motives. Crossover. It’s still the motive who matters. But maybe, maybe any one of these who present the opportunity would do.”

  “How would you begin to find out how many of these wankers—because Christ, they all look at least a bit like wankers—each individual woman has shagged?”

  “I start by asking them. They’ll brag about it. It’s a badge of honor in Skankdom.”

  “Visited Skankdom, have you?”

  “With a badge and in the line. I’m going to contact them, start working on a cross-reference. You could take a look at the wankers, dig down a bit. Give me your take on which ones have the most potential. Musically, creatively. The guy in the book has some actual charm, talent, and that potential. Unless he’s too busy smoking, swallowing, guzzling, or popping whatever illegals come to hand—and chasing them down with a whole bunch of alcohol. Then he’s a dick.”

  “So—to clarify,” Roarke said. “I’m rating the wankers on their level of potential as musicians and human beings if and when they cease the smoking, swallowing, guzzling, popping, and chasing themselves into a dick?”

  “Yeah. Oh, and sex. Another addiction.”

  On that, Roarke pushed up from the table. “Sex, drugs, and rock and roll. What an interesting way to spend our evening.”

  Eve sat down and started at the top of her list by contacting Loxie Flash.

  About ten minutes after Eve got a bang-brag list from Loxie and moved on to the next on the list, Loxie lit up a joint of Zoner, poured a glass from the bottle of top-shelf vodka she’d stolen at a party, and switched on the porn channel.

  She hated winter in New York and wondered why the hell she wasn’t in St. Barts. The fact that her finances were, at the moment, a little squeezed added to her foul mood.

  So fuck it, she’d head out to naked beaches in the morning. She could always hitch a ride on a private shuttle, talk Petra at the Beach House into a suite in exchange for some publicity.

  Bored, irritated by the skinny cop, and since she’d reeled off all those sex partners, itchy, she reached for her ’link to start wrangling a ride and some digs in sunnier climes.

  It pinged in her hand with an incoming text.

  Hey bitch where u at? Got r jam going @ Screw U. Place is banging & I scored some prime. Guess who just walked in with a couple hos? G-man, u guessed it. Come on slut time 2 party.

  Loxie took another pull of Zoner, drew deep as she considered. If Janis was there, probably most of the usual crew was, too, because Janis was too lame to party without the usual.

  Still, she thought of the cold, the ice, the effort of pulling herself away from Zoner, vodka, and porn, getting herself dressed and sexed—mega-style, since her ex turned up.

  A lot of work.

  The warning about staying out of clubs, about poison and all that bullshit played through her mind. But the idea of pumping Janis—the bitch had the rich—for that private ride trumped all.

  She left the porn running on-screen because now that itch felt real good, now she’d pick some lucky bitch or bastard to scratch it.

  She answered the text.

  B there in an hour. Save me a party favor.

  Yola Bloomfield tossed her ’link aside and brooded. She wasn’t going to feel guilty for confessing—that’s what you did to cops—she’d cheated on the Stoner a few times.

  Not all of it was cheating anyway. Sometimes they’d been on a break, and once they’d gotten trashed at some after-party and had had a free-for-all.

  Besides, the Stoner had cheated right back.

  And she was clean now, and mostly sober.

  She studied the painting she’d just finished, decided it spoke to the inevitability of death, and the suffering that preceded it. The dark choices that made the suffering and the inevitability worthwhile.

  She decided she really wanted a beer. Even if a lone beer in her empty apartment often made everything echo inside her head.

  She shuffled in to check the friggie, cursed. She’d meant to get some brew delivered, but she’d gotten caught up in her work. And now that she didn’t have a single brew in the place, she wanted one even more.

>   She could go out—screw the weather—get that brew, hear some noise, some music, do some sketching, and maybe inspire her next piece.

  Stay out of the clubs, the hard-eyed cop had ordered. Well, screw that, too. She did what she wanted when she wanted.

  When her ’link signaled, she walked back, checked the text.

  From that semi-idiot and overeager rich bitch Janis, she noted.

  Maybe it was a sign, urging her to hit Screw U for a couple hours.

  She could get a brew and smother all the echoes.

  Eve sat back in her chair, pressed her fingers to her eyes. “Cock and Balls,” she said.

  Roarke glanced over from his station at the auxiliary. “Is that a request? As I’m nearly done here and happen to have those items handy.”

  She lowered her hands. “Who’d think a woman who wears cock-and-balls earrings would come off as the least skanky and most sensible on the list so far?”

  “I couldn’t say. How large were they, these particular accessories?”

  “Big enough. And yet she says she’s only had sex with three on our list, though she ‘messed steamy’—her words—with two others.”

  “Perhaps, though her jewelry choices belie, she’s being modest and/or discreet.”

  “No. She’s too scared to lie about it, and is even now huddled up at her mother’s place in New Jersey. Sexy Bitch, on the other hand, claims to have had sex with all of them, and some at the same time. She might be lying.”

  “Sexy Bitch.”

  “Tattooed,” Eve said, swiping her fingers over her chest.

  “I suppose no one ever pointed out to her that if you have to announce you are, you simply aren’t. But you do meet the most fascinating people in the course of your day, Lieutenant.”

  “I’m going to meet more tomorrow because I’m going to have to track down and talk to all the male skanks. I’m not through my list yet and there’s not one of the rockers who hasn’t been done by multiples on my list. It’s not the sex.”

  “Well now,” Roarke began.

  “No, it’s the score. The act, sure, the literal bang, but it’s the racking them up. And racking them up fills a void. I get sex just for the bang, and what’s wrong with that?”

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