Dark in death, p.3
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       Dark in Death, p.3
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         Part #46 of In Death series by J. D. Robb

  Eve skirted around construction barriers. If it wasn’t drunks, thieves, and tourists, it was some guy in a hard hat jacking a hole in the street.

  She went into the relative quiet of the lot, opted to take the stairs down.

  “Are we going to do notification after the restaurant?”

  “I did it.” Boots clanged on the metal steps. “Just the parents, and they live in Wisconsin.”

  Shocked faces, glazed eyes, choked voices.

  “I talked to a couple people who work the concession. They knew her. Not personally,” Peabody added. “But they knew her face, said she was always friendly. She sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to one of them a couple months ago. Small popcorn, medium Diet Coke, and for a comedy, she added gummy bears.”

  “Creature of habit,” Eve said when they reached the car. “It makes it easy to stalk and study and plan. We need to run the staff. Even the ones not on tonight. People who saw her regularly, got to know her habits.”

  “How’d he make the tag to the vet place, make it so close to the murder?”

  “A good question, and one I hope McNab finds the answer to.”

  “A partner? A partner makes the tag.”

  “Maybe.”

  “It’s more logistical than the killer making it: Have to do it outside the theater—then come in again, sit down again, kill her, get up, walk out again. More likely someone notices that. The in, sit, stand, out, in, and all that.”

  Eve didn’t disagree—up and down, in and out brought attention. But she wanted verification.

  She parked again, a half block from where her navigation system put the restaurant. This time she copped a street-level spot. In a loading zone, but flipping on her On Duty light covered that.

  “I know I told you what a mag time we had in Mexico, and thanked you about a zillion times.”

  “So don’t do it again.”

  “What I didn’t say,” Peabody continued, “mostly because I wanted to see if the results stuck, was how McNab conked on the shuttle on the way to the villa. Just dropped out, and he extremely loves flying. And after we got there and basked, had a couple of birdbath margaritas, took a swim, he conked again—even before we continued to bask with sex—and slept dead out for twelve solid.”

  “Like you said, he needed a break.”

  “And he got one. You and Roarke made it so he got one. I’d’ve been okay if he’d slept the entire time we were there, but the twelve solid really helped. So we had lots of sex.”

  “This is how you say thank you?”

  “We had lots and lots of sex,” Peabody said, unabashed. “Lots of drinks, lots of sitting around doing nothing, lots of everything that wasn’t work. And it’s stuck. He’s got his bounce back.”

  “McNab always bounces.”

  “But it’s the real deal again. The natural bounce. It’s a load off, Dallas. I just wanted to say.”

  “Good. Good,” she repeated when she reached for the door of the restaurant.

  She opened it to a blast of voices raised in song, and the smell of Italian cooking that made her stomach yearn.

  Eve stepped to the hostess podium, where the woman behind it beamed a smile, held up a finger, then joined her rather stupendous soprano on the chorus.

  People at tables, in booths stopped twirling pasta, stabbing meatballs, forking up chicken piccata to applaud.

  The music dropped away into the clatter of dishes, the hum and buzz of conversation. And the waitstaff, all clad in sleek black, continued to serve and clear as if belting out some Broadway standard just came with the field greens salad.

  “Welcome to Broadway Babies. Do you have a reservation?”

  “I have this.” Eve palmed her badge, tipped it up.

  “Oh! Oh dear, is there a problem, Officer?”

  “Lieutenant. I need to speak to whoever’s in charge.”

  “Of course. That would be Annalisa. If you’d wait here, I’ll get her.”

  As she scurried away, the party at a long table in the center of the room burst into mad laughter all at once. As if taking his cue, one of the bartenders began to sing as he poured wine.

  Across the room, a waitress did a hands-on-hips dance toward him, made it a duet.

  “I love this place! It’s just so much fun.”

  Fun, Eve thought, if your idea of same equaled waitstaff singing and dancing around your table while you were trying to eat. Or, Jesus, actually pulling you up from your seat, spinning you around while singing in your face.

  Then again, the man currently being spun and sung to and, good God, the woman the bartender grabbed up—after actually leaping over the damn bar—both appeared to enjoy it all just fine.

  It took all kinds.

  The hostess hurried back, accompanied by a woman with whipped-cream-white hair, tiger-gold eyes, and a statuesque body tucked into a bold blue dress.

  “Good evening, I’m Annalisa Bacardo,” she said, with the faintest accent that went with the scents of Italian food. “How can I help?”

  “Is there somewhere more private where we can talk?”

  “Of course.” The polite smile never wavered. “I would like to ask what we might be discussing.”

  “Chanel Rylan.”

  “Chanel?” The smile only widened. “Surely Chanel couldn’t be in any trouble with the police. She’s …” Something in Eve’s flat, direct gaze caused the smile to fade. “Yes, of course. If you’ll come with me.”

  Annalisa led them back, through the swinging kitchen doors, into the heat and chaos of the heart of a busy restaurant.

  “My office is through here—I need to be close. Giavanni!” She called out, then rattled off a spate of Italian before she opened a door, waved Eve and Peabody through.

  The office largely consisted of a desk, a couple of chairs, and walls covered with photos.

  “Our staff, over the years—twenty-two years—performing all over the world. Off-planet as well. Here, Chanel.”

  She tapped a photo of the doomed actress, spotlighted, arms outstretched, face lifted.

  “What’s happened to her? She’s been hurt?”

  “I’m sorry to inform you Chanel Rylan was killed tonight.”

  “But no.” Going as pale as her hair, Annalisa braced a hand on the desk, slowly lowered into a folding chair. “No, she’s … An accident?”

  “No, not an accident.”

  “I … A moment, please.” She clasped her hands in her lap, shut her eyes. “I’m rude,” she managed. “Please sit down. Please sit.”

  “Could I get you some water, Ms. Bacardo?”

  “Annalisa,” she murmured, eyes still closed. “I’m Annalisa. There is wine over there. I would very much thank you for bringing me a glass of wine.”

  She sat in silence until Peabody touched her hand, put a glass of wine in it.

  “Thank you.” She sipped, sipped again. “They’re my children, my family. Some will only perform here, in this happy place. Some will go on to more, to much more. They’re my family. Please tell me what happened to her.”

  “She was killed tonight at the Vid Galaxy, Times Square.”

  “You have the murderer?”

  “Not at this time.”

  “You must.” Those tiger eyes went bright and hard. “You must find and punish who did this. She was sweet and smart and talented. She brought joy. Those who would kill one who brings joy have no place in the world. What can I do to help you put him away from the world?”

  “Do you know anyone who’d want to hurt her?”

  “I promise you I don’t.”

  “Someone she was involved with, romantically, sexually?”

  “She had many romances. She brought joy there, too. Lightly,” Annalisa added. “Her work was first. No one serious, no one angry.”

  “Competitors, in her work.”

  “Ah, there is drama and strife and camaraderie and even a little madness in such work. But I know of no one. She was talented and worked hard, but not destined to be a star.
That takes more. She was happy to have what she had, to do work that satisfied and fed her, to make a living doing what brought her joy and gave it. Some are more ruthless, yes? Some don’t have a care for bruising feelings or crushing opportunities. She didn’t have that quality. I think this must have been a madman, and someone who didn’t know her.”

  “Maybe you noticed someone who paid too much attention to her, who came in, watched her.”

  “The tourists come and go, though some come back when they visit New York again. We have regulars, and family groups who often come to celebrate a birthday or anniversary. I noticed nothing like this. If one of the others had, I would have been told. Family,” she reminded Eve. “And family looks out for each other. I want to help, but there’s no one I know who would have hurt her.”

  “That helps.”

  “How?”

  “It tells me you feel it’s very unlikely someone who works here or comes in on a regular basis would have done this.”

  “I believe it absolutely.”

  “Who on your staff was she most friendly with?”

  “Ah, we all work together, perform together. We are a company, too. But I would say Micha—on the bar. They sometimes … dated. Lightly, for both. And Teresa, one of our sous chefs. They were friendly, and also dated lightly. And Eliza, a waitress. Sometimes they were up for the same part, and would support each other. Often they would run lines together.

  “You will need to speak to them?”

  “Yes.”

  “I will arrange it. But Teresa? She has this night off.”

  “If you’d give us her contact information, we’ll take care of that.”

  “I will. I will tell you as well both Eliza and Micha have been here since four-thirty. We have a short rehearsal before we open, and there is restaurant business as well.”

  “That’s also helpful, thank you.”

  “I’ll bring Eliza back first. I have to arrange for someone to take the bar for Micha. May I bring you wine?”

  “Appreciate it, but we’re not allowed. On duty.”

  “That’s very much too bad, but I’ll bring you cappuccino. We make very excellent cappuccino.”

  Eve drummed her fingers on her thigh when Annalisa stepped out. “I think, if her killer stalked her here, he was subtle about it, careful about it. That’s a woman who’d notice, or would be told if anybody gave the wrong vibe. Both she and the roommate insist the vic had no angry or disgruntled exes. But some can play that game and seethe inside.”

  Rising, Eve wandered the little room. “But it strikes as less personal than an ex or a rival. We’ll talk to these two, just to wind it up, then unless something pops out, call it. I’ll put together the book and board at home. We’ll hit the morgue first thing in the morning, see if there’s anything we missed about the body.”

  “Homicide,” Peabody intoned. “Our day starts and ends with death.”

  “That’s why we get the shitty bucks, Peabody.”

  Eve drove through the gates of home for the second time that night. She wanted that glass of wine Annalisa had offered—though the cappuccino hadn’t sucked. And she wanted something, anything, that tasted even half as good as the air in Broadway Babies.

  But wants took second place to needs, she thought. She needed to set up her murder board and book, and to think about Chanel Rylan.

  Lights sparkled in the windows of the big house, lending it that castle-in-a-fairy-tale air. Low-lying clouds, shadows in the night sky, floated over turrets and towers. She caught a hint, just a hint, of the moon behind those blanketing clouds.

  The wind, quieter than it had been, still bit, so little felt better than escaping it and letting the warmth inside envelop.

  Once again, she tossed her coat and scarf on the newel post. This time no cat waited. She’d find him, she knew, with the master of the house.

  Book and board first, she thought, then she’d catch up with them. But when she walked into her office, she found them both stretched out on a sofa, the fire snapping. The man held a book in his hand, had a glass of wine on the table. The fat lump of a cat sprawled across Roarke’s knees.

  “And there she is.”

  “I figured you’d be in your office, or watching a vid.”

  “Work’s done for the day—for me, in any case. And watching a vid’s more fun with you. Reading’s a nice solitary choice.”

  He gave the cat a nudge that had Galahad rolling over on his back. “You’ve work yet.”

  “Yeah. Sorry.”

  He got up, setting the book aside, walked to her. “You’ll tell me about it.”

  She moved into him, wrapped her arms around him, just held there. “Sometimes it hits me especially.”

  “What does?”

  “That I have this to come home to.”

  She’d tell him about it, she thought, knowing from experience that it would help line up her thoughts.

  “I’ll wager you haven’t eaten.”

  “You’d win that bet. It has to be Italian. The last interviews were in an Italian restaurant and it smelled like heaven coated in red sauce.”

  “I can take care of that. Pour yourself a glass of that wine,” he advised as he eased back. “It’s exceptional. Then you can tell me about it while we eat.”

  “ ‘We’? Didn’t you eat already?”

  “I did some work, I did some reading. It’s not that late,” he added and started toward the kitchen. “Especially for an Italian meal.”

  She poured the wine. He was right, as usual. Exceptional. And while he programmed the meal, she started on her murder board.

  “Your victim?” He glanced at the ID shot on the board as he carried domed plates to the table by the window. “She was lovely.”

  “Yeah. An actress—theater—doubled as a waitress at Broadway Babies.”

  “Ah, the place where they sing while they dish up the pasta.” He went back into the kitchen, came out with salad, bread.

  “That’s the one. Weird, but people sure looked happy.”

  He glanced back at the board after he set the rest on the table. “Psycho? Was she hacked to death in the shower?”

  “No, but that’s what she was watching when somebody jabbed a thin, sharp blade into the base of her skull. That smells really good.”

  She stepped over. She could work her way through a salad if the reward was pasta.

  “One of the vid palaces in Times Square,” she said as she sat. “Early evening show in the classic vid theater. Her name was Chanel Rylan.”

  And she told him of murder and misery while they ate.

  He listened, with little comment, until Eve cleared the salad bowls and he lifted the domes on one of his wife’s personal favorites. Spaghetti and meatballs.

  As he knew her body language intimately, he noted she relaxed by a few degrees even before she wound the first forkful of pasta.

  “Your conclusion would be a target-specific victim, with the emergency call to the friend the cap on that stone.”

  “Bogus emergency,” Eve said with a mouthful of pasta. “Pretty exquisite timing.”

  “It is.” Watching her relax with the meal made him glad he’d waited for her. “And the choice of that timing. The shower scene—the shocker, the murder of what the unsuspecting audience believes is the central character—thirty minutes into the vid. That forty-five seconds of stunning violence.”

  “How do you know that?” She poked her fork in the air before stabbing a meatball. “Thirty minutes in, forty-five seconds.”

  “It’s one of those things you pick up. I have no doubt that in the single viewing you had of the vid with me a year or so ago, your cop brain would have estimated that timing very precisely.”

  “You’re not a cop, as you like to remind me.”

  “Happily. But I live with one, and would make another wager. She’s already concluding the purpose of that exquisite timing.”

  “Rich guy always making sure bets.” She ate more pasta. “Forty-five second
s, during which anybody who had an ass in a chair would be completely focused on the screen. Or have their hand slapped over their eyes, like Peabody on her first viewing. The timing, the method say target specific. The victim herself …” With a shake of her head, Eve picked up her wine.

  “Tell me about her.”

  “Happy, hardworking, talented. Three of the top words her friend, her parents, her employer, her coworkers all used to describe her. Sexually she batted for both teams, but didn’t take the game too seriously. The only long-term ex moved to Canada years ago—career deal. No big drama, according to her friend, and he’d have no motive to come back and stab her to death.”

  “But you’ll look at him.”

  “You’ve got to look. She was up for a part—a bigger one than usual—so I’ll look at whoever else is up for it.”

  He knew her—the tone, the body language, the look in those cop’s eyes. “But?”

  “Okay, it’s target specific. You can’t discount that bullshit dog emergency that had the person sitting beside her leaving the theater for several minutes. The timing of that, the fact the killer sat right behind her, which indicates he either followed her there or knew she’d be there. That’s no random stab in the dark. Literally.”

  He nodded as he ate. “And again, but?”

  “There had to be countless, less risky ways to kill her. She’s a night creature, right? Either coming out of the theater after a performance at night, or from the restaurant. Walking home from the restaurant after shift, from the theater after a show. Grab her, stab her, and book it. But this was dramatic, right? And really risky. And it depended on everything falling into place.”

  “Which it seems to have done.”

  “Yeah.” She stabbed at another meatball. “But. What if somebody decides to sit beside the killer? What if the friend decides to ignore the call, even for a few minutes? What if somebody else walks out at the same time as the killer? If you’re going to plan as well as he or she did, those are risks that have to be weighed in. So why go to all that trouble, take all that time to find that moment, when there are easier ways?”

  “The killer enjoys or craves the risk and the drama?”

  “Maybe, yeah, and I’ve got to tug on that. And maybe the method, the precision of it, the moment of it, were all as specific as the victim. Maybe, shit, maybe they had sex during that scene sometime in the past. And it meant more to him or her than it did to the victim. Maybe he’d seen her in that theater before, and something she said, did, the way she looked triggered something.”

 
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