Dark in death, p.29
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       Dark in Death, p.29
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         Part #46 of In Death series by J. D. Robb

  “Okay, got that.”

  “I’ve still got contacts from my early days. I can ask around.”

  “I’m going to give you the sketch, and ask you to do just that. If you get a hit, remember, she’s not harmless. Just tag me.”

  She stopped when her comp signaled. Turning to the screen, she felt the lift, the buzz as she studied the ID shot side-by-side with the sketch.

  “Ann Elizabeth Smith. Average name, average face. No more fading,” she stated. “I’ve got the bitch.”

  “Bitch!” Bella said cheerfully, and laughed like a loon.

  20

  The minute she cleared her office, Eve started a run on Ann Elizabeth Smith, barked for Peabody.

  Peabody came on the run. “Mavis said you—” She caught the face on-screen. “Yes!”

  “Born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware. DOB March 14, 2018. No sibs. Parents divorced in ’27. Father relocated the same year, remarried six months later. Already had a skirt on the side,” she deduced. “Mother, a seamstress, ran her own shop. Fit for You, established 2023.”

  “She learned young,” Peabody said. “Her mother taught her to sew. That fits.”

  “The mother remarried and relocated in ’36. It looks like Smith took over the management of the shop. Run a side search on that, the financials. It shut down two years ago—coordinating with her move to New York. I’ve got a Brooklyn address, and employment at Dobb’s.”

  “Small, exclusive department store,” Peabody told her as she worked her PPC. “High-end clothing and accessories.”

  “Carmichael and Santiago are already in Brooklyn.” Eve pulled out her communicator. “We’ll have them sit on her home address. Keep running that, and get us a conference room. Pull in Uniform Carmichael and … Officer Shelby. We’re going to work out the takedown.”

  While Peabody went out, PPC in hand. Eve contacted her detectives, gave the order. Then contacted Feeney.

  “Told you already. It’s going to take awhile,” he said stiffly.

  “I may have her—don’t stop what you’re doing, and I don’t want to pull McNab off it. I need a geek. Can you spare one?”

  “You can take Callendar.” His tone stayed as frosty as the day. “She knows how you work.”

  “Perfect. I’m taking a conference room, working out the op.”

  “I’ll get her moving.” Though still stiff, he added, “Good hunting.”

  “One more thing. I’m sending you an address.”

  He offered her a mournful stare. “You got any detectives in your own division?”

  “Non-work-related. It’s Kincade’s recording studio. Avenue A—the band—is having—doing?—whatever, a session. They expect to start about fifteen hundred today, go through till maybe twenty-two, twenty-three hundred. It gives you a big window. You’re cleared for it.”

  “Cleared for it?” Feeney said blankly.

  “To, you know, go. To hang. Watch, listen. He didn’t have time to come back to Central, but you can go there. If you want.”

  “I’m cleared to watch Avenue A record?” The frosty tone melted into the awed.

  “Yeah. I said I’d fix it.”

  When he didn’t speak for a full fifteen seconds, Eve worried he’d suffered a small stroke. “Feeney?”

  “You didn’t fix it.” His voice came out raw, then went to booming. “You killed it! Holy shit, holy mother of shit! Best day of my life! Don’t tell my wife, my kids, my grandkids I said that. Ever. Holy hot, steaming shit.”

  She wasn’t sure she could tell anyone—ever—that the cop she considered to be as steady, cynical, bullshit-free as any she’d ever known currently looked just a little insane.

  That there might’ve been a tear in his baggy eye.

  “Okay. So we’re good?”

  “Good, my ass. Kid, this is how you rock it.”

  “Okay then. I’ve got to get on this, you know, murder stuff.”

  She clicked off fast because Feeney’s face reminded her of the big, sloppy dog at the vet clinic.

  Peabody clomped back. “Conference room two. I’ve got some financial data. It’s a little convoluted.”

  “Do I need Roarke?”

  “Not that convoluted. It looks like the mother retained ownership, kept Smith on salary. Decent enough, I guess, but not as much as you’d think for a daughter—only child—taking over the running of a family business. One said daughter worked in, on record, since the age of seventeen. It’s, you know, stingy. No percentage, no bonuses.”

  “Okay. Okay.” Eve thought it through. “Maybe a hard relationship with the mother. Mira turf, but it may play into Smith’s obsession with the female writer, the female characters, the female vics.”

  “No personal female power, or female circle,” Peabody finished with a nod. “A little more on that. The place did good business under the mother, held its own for the first couple years after she passed the management, it shows a small decline, then a big drop. The big drop’s about a year before she shut the doors. The mother, from my interpretation, shut them.”

  “Got it,” Eve said as she walked herself through transferring what she had to the comp in the conference room. “Let’s get set up. Walk and talk. We’ve got Callendar on the e-work. On her way. Patch in Santiago and Carmichael when we’re ready to brief. I want a map, and whatever we can get of her residence.”

  “She’d probably be at work now, right?”

  “We need her direct supervisor. Let’s find out.”

  In the conference room, Eve immediately set up the board with Smith’s ID shot front and center.

  “Address is a three-story, eighteen-unit apartment building. She’s on the second floor, second unit, west side.”

  Eve filed it in her head, visualized it, while she worked on the board.

  “We tag the store,” Eve said, thinking out loud. “Ask for the seamstress department.”

  “I think ‘Alterations.’ ”

  “Then that. Request Smith by name for a ’link consult. She might know your face. We get Callendar to do it. Determine whether or not she’s in the store, how long she’ll be there. We need a sense of the area she works in—exits, how much running room. I’d rather wait until we’re there to notify store security. We don’t know them.”

  As she worked out those logistics, Uniform Carmichael came in with Shelby. “Grab coffee if you want it. We’re waiting for our e-person. Peabody, try Records. See if we can access a blueprint of the Dobb’s store.”

  “The one in Brooklyn?” Shelby asked. “I’ve got a friend who works there.”

  Eve stopped what she was doing, turned to Shelby. “Is she a blabbermouth?”

  “She can flap them, sir, but not if I swear her down. If I do, she’ll zip it.”

  “Tag her and do that. I need her to find out if a seamstress is working today. Ann Elizabeth Smith.” Eve gestured to the board. “She’s our suspect. I need to know if she’s in the store, and the structure of the department where she works.”

  “Jill, she’d know. She works in the fancy dress section, like formal wear and all that.”

  “Just the data, and no blabbing.”

  “She’ll stay frosty, Lieutenant.” Shelby pulled out her ’link as Callendar came in.

  She’d whacked her hair short, added blue tips. She wore the many-pocketed baggies the e-geeks seemed to love. Her multitude of pockets sported blue-and-pink polka dots over their fields of electrified green. The rest of the baggies picked up the pink while her high-top sneaks reveled in the green and blue.

  The frisky puppy frolicking over her shirt—and impressive breasts—seemed at odds with the weapon clipped to her belt.

  She said, “Yo.”

  “Yo. Grab coffee, I’ll brief in a minute.”

  “Got fizzy.” She shook the go-cup in her hand. “Ready and able.”

  “Lieutenant? The suspect isn’t in today.”

  “We’ll focus on her residence.”

  “Sir?” Shelby continued. “She
hasn’t worked there in almost a year. She quit, Jill says. Handed in her notice and split.”

  “Didn’t update her data. Is your friend still on your ’link?”

  “I’ve got her holding, sir.”

  Eve walked over, took the ’link, flipped off the hold. “This is Lieutenant Dallas.”

  “Oh, okay.” The big-eyed blonde managed a nervous smile.

  “Did you know Smith? A. E. Smith?”

  “Ann? Sure. Well, I didn’t know-know her. We didn’t, like, hang or anything, but I used her a lot when she worked here. For fittings and alterations. She was top-notch, you know? And fast, too. A lot of my regulars requested her.”

  “How did she get along there?”

  “Um … She was really good at her job. I guess she wasn’t so good with actual people. Not rude, like, just … Really shy maybe? She never had anything to say.”

  “No friends?”

  “Around here? I guess not. Ah, Mo said I wasn’t supposed to blab. I’ve got the lock down.”

  “That doesn’t apply to me.”

  Shelby leaned into the screen. “Spill to the lieutenant.”

  “Okay then. She was weird. Not just quiet and shy, but weird. Wouldn’t look you in the eye, mumbled, spent her breaks huddled up with her PPC—that’s if she took a break. Mostly she worked through. We’re friendly around here, right? She just wasn’t. And Dobb’s throws a primo holiday party. She didn’t even come when she was here. I guess she sort of creeped me. But she was really good at her job.”

  “You haven’t seen her since she quit?”

  “No. I’m pretty sure some of my regulars use her, on the side.”

  “Okay, appreciate it. Put the lock back on.”

  “Could I … Before I do that, can I ask if she did something whacked? You know how you hear people say, ‘Oh she was so quiet, kept to herself,’ and how they never thought they’d do something whacked? Well, Ann was quiet and kept to herself—mega—but I wouldn’t be surprised if she did something whacked.”

  “Shelby will let you know about that when our lock’s off.”

  Eve handed the ’link back to Shelby, made a wind-it-up signal with her finger.

  “Gotta go, Jill. I’ll get back to you.”

  “Peabody, patch in the others.”

  Eve lined up the steps in her head, got the nod from Peabody.

  “The suspect is Ann Elizabeth Smith, aka A. E. Strongbow. She has, we believe, killed three people. Rosie Kent,” Eve continued, gesturing to the board, “Chanel Rylan, and Loxie Flash. Each victim was chosen, each murder constructed, to correspond with a novel written by Blaine DeLano.”

  She ran through the outline of the victims, murders, motives, and Smith’s obsession with DeLano and the series.

  “So not only does the whacked,” Callendar said, “she is the whacked.”

  “Legally whacked is for the courts and shrinks to say. But she’s not the shy, quiet, harmless woman she appears to be. She’s both dangerous and cunning. We won’t underestimate her. Santiago? Any sign she’s in residence?”

  “Privacy screens are down, LT. We haven’t sighted her going in or coming out.”

  “Our e-person will determine when we get there. If she’s not in residence, we wait until she comes home. Peabody and me inside, Santiago and Detective Carmichael in the vehicle with Callendar, uniforms out of sight at the rear of the building, moving in on my signal. If she’s in residence, I want the uniforms on the rear, cutting off any attempt to exit. Detectives enter with me and Peabody, holding on the first floor to cut off that route. Callendar with us. You’ll knock, get her to open up. She doesn’t know your face, and she’s not going to think ‘cop’ seeing you.”

  “Hey!”

  “She won’t think ‘murder cop,’ ” Eve temporized.

  “Accepted.”

  “She opens, you step out of the way. All weapons, low stun, but we take her down fast. She’s a seamstress so she’s going to have sharps. We don’t know if she has other weapons.”

  “It’s an old, low-rent, working-class building,” Peabody added. “You should be able to get a heat signal with a portable, Callendar.”

  “Copy that. I’ll get eyes and ears, too, in case.”

  “Gear up,” Eve said, “and let’s roll.”

  Straightforward, Eve thought as she drove into Brooklyn with Callendar and her e-toys in the back. But no op, however straightforward or simple, could be taken casually.

  The straightforward could become the twisty and the simple the deadly. She worked out contingencies as she drove. The uniforms followed in a black-and-white while Peabody mined for more data on the PPC.

  “I’ve got the mother’s social media pages. She’s got a stepdaughter—well, two—through her second marriage. But the younger just got married last June. A lot of pictures—and commentary. Splashy white wedding in Savannah, where they’re located. Gorgeous bridal gown.”

  “That’s of great interest because?”

  “Because Smith’s mother designed it with her stepdaughter, and made it. The stepdaughter’s got commentary on here, refers to Smith’s mother as Mom—new husband’s a widower. Goes on and on about her new mom, the dress, the family. Not one mention of the stepsister she inherited. No photos of Smith anywhere I can find. I don’t think she went to the wedding.”

  “No family ties.”

  “I’m not finding any. Her father—Smith’s—has a page, too. Not as chatty as the mother’s, but he has one. Photos of him and his second wife, some golf buddies. And several including his son with second wife, and his grandson. None of his daughter. Also no mention.”

  “It’s kind of sad,” Callendar commented. “The old man takes off, hooks up, starts a new family, and his daughter’s left out. The mother sticks till she’s of age, then she books, too. New life, new family. Of course, since Smith is whack, maybe they considered it a kind of escape. But that’s sad, too.”

  “Family’s supposed to be family.”

  “That’s what I say.” Callendar bopped Peabody on the shoulder. “I mean half my family’s whack. Not kill-you-in-your-sleep whack, but whack. But we stick.”

  “You’re assuming the parents did the booking and forgetting,” Eve pointed out. “And not factoring in the father may have tried to keep lines open. And the mother didn’t shut the doors of the shop until a couple of months after Smith walked out of it. Walked out of the family business, out of where she lived and worked her entire life. Then she walked out on her job here in New York.”

  “You’ve got a point,” Callendar conceded.

  “And whoever did the booking and forgetting? Three people who did no harm are dead by Smith’s hand.”

  “Yeah, that’s a big factor in it. Are DeLano’s books sexy? I like sexy books.”

  “They’ve got a heat element,” Peabody told her. “But it’s more ‘Will they ever do it’ instead of ‘Hey, they’re doing it again.’ ”

  “We’ll hold book club later,” Eve said. “Tell the uniforms to peel off. I want them to go around the back rather than drive past and go around. No point in having her glance out the window, see an NYPSD cruiser, and panic.”

  Peabody relayed as Eve made the turn onto Smith’s street. She spotted her detectives’ vehicle, approved they’d found a slot out of direct sight line from Smith’s window, but with a good view of the building and the street.

  She pulled up across the street, contacted them.

  “Hold there until Callendar gets her read. Officer Carmichael?”

  “Parking, Lieutenant. We’ll move into position in a couple. First floor, rear door. We’ll cover it until you say different.”

  “Callendar?”

  “Take me a sec. It’s a nice old building. Could use some work, but that’s good, solid brick there. And … crap windows with crappier screens. I got you a heat source like bang. Far side of the room, looks to be sitting down. One source, Dallas. Sitting, but active.”

  “We move in. Uniforms, take the back
. Detectives, wait until we enter, then take the first floor. Callendar.”

  “Wait once. I can keep this running, transfer to my pocket piece, and keep an eye on her. You want the eyes and ears?”

  “Shouldn’t need them. Ready?”

  “Set,” she said.

  Peabody muttered, “Go,” as they got out of different doors.

  They moved fast, not at a run, but a quick New York walk down the sidewalk to the building entrance. Eve mastered it open, gave her detectives the signal, then went in.

  She gestured up a set of narrow stairs. “You knock, say somebody gave you her name about tailoring.”

  “What do I want tailored?”

  “Oooh, a wedding dress! Say a wedding dress,” Peabody urged.

  “Frosty. I can play that.”

  “She starts to open the door, step back.”

  “I’m a real cop, you know.”

  “You’re a real cop, and you’re coming in behind us. Draw your weapon, and keep your hands out of view.”

  Eve judged the doors they passed. A couple solid kicks, she estimated. If Smith didn’t open, they’d take the door down, and her with it.

  “Where is she?” Eve kept her voice low as they approached the apartment.

  “Same spot.”

  “Peabody, take the other side of the door. Santiago?”

  “Got the door and the stairs.”

  “Officer Carmichael?”

  “On the back, Lieutenant.”

  “Stand by.” She nodded to Callendar.

  Callendar put on a happy face, stepped up, weapon held low, and buzzed.

  A staticky intercom clicked on. “Yes?”

  “Hey! I’m Debby! A friend of mine gave me your name. It’s about my wedding. She said you’re really, really good, and my mom really wants me to wear her dress, so it has to be altered before the big day.”

  “Sorry? What?”

  “In May. The wedding’s in May. I’ve got a picture. Can I show you?”

 
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