Dark in death, p.30
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       Dark in Death, p.30
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         Part #46 of In Death series by J. D. Robb

  “Hold on.”

  A chain rattled. Callendar stepped back.

  “Door’s opening,” Eve murmured into her comm.

  When the lock clicked and the door creaked open a crack, she shoved through, had the woman spun around against the wall.

  “Oh my God, oh my God, take whatever you want!”

  “We’re the police.”

  And though she was already cursing silently, Eve turned the woman to face her to make sure.

  “It’s not Smith. Where is Ann Elizabeth Smith?” Eve demanded.

  “I don’t know.” The woman’s gaze, full of fear, bounced from face to face. “I don’t know anybody like that. Please, my kid’ll be home soon. Take whatever you want.”

  “NYPSD.” Eve holstered her weapon, took out her badge. “This apartment is listed under the name I gave you.”

  “I’m Gracie Lipwitch. I’ve got ID. I can show you.”

  “No need, Ms. Lipwitch, and I’m sorry we frightened you.”

  “Frightened? I may have wet my pants! I’m sitting here, on my day off, icing cupcakes for my kid’s scout meeting, and the next thing I know. You said wedding. I thought you were looking for a wedding cake. The damn intercom’s a piece of crap.”

  “Ms. Lipwitch, how long have you lived in this apartment?”

  “Eight months, three weeks, and two days.”

  “That’s very specific.”

  “We moved in exactly one month after my kid’s no-good father took off on us. I’m going to sit down. My legs are shaking.”

  “Can I get you some water?” Peabody asked, but Lipwitch waved her off.

  “You scared the life out of me.”

  “I’m very sorry,” Peabody said, adding a look of concern. “The person we’re looking for lists this as her address.” She pulled up the photo on her PPC. “This woman.”

  Lipwitch looked at it. “I’m sorry. I don’t think I know her. But the way you came barging in here, she better have killed somebody.”

  At the beat of silence, her face went pale. “Oh God, you think I killed somebody.”

  “No, we don’t,” Eve assured her. “Can you tell us if the previous occupant left anything behind?”

  “The place was empty—and not all that clean—when me and Darby moved in. My girl. I cleaned like a maniac for a full day. A lot of, like, slivers. Of material. A lot of smudges on the wall, like from taping stuff up. That’s about it. You said wedding.” Now she let out a long breath. “I thought you wanted a wedding cake. I’m a baker. I work at a bakery a couple blocks from here, and do some cakes on the side. My day off,” she added. “And what am I doing but making three dozen cupcakes for my kid’s scout group.”

  “They look really great.”

  Lipwitch looked at Callendar, sighed. “You can have one. I made a few extra.”

  “Seriously? We’ll split one.” Callendar chose one with a swirl of creamy white icing, broke off a chunk. “They’re terrific.”

  Eve dug out a card. “You can contact me. I’m going to make sure the address is changed so no one bothers you again.”

  “Okay. Listen, did somebody who lived here really kill somebody?”

  “We’re looking for this individual in the course of a homicide investigation.”

  “That’s even scarier than having you barge in here. I don’t know if it helps, but I got this place fast because one of the people who lives downstairs comes in the bakery a lot, and she knew I was looking for a place for me and my kid. It’s just a one bedroom and I wanted two, but the price was right and it’s close to work, and it was available. Whoever lived here before just walked out. I mean, she left the last month’s rent in an envelope with the keys, took her stuff, and left. It looks like nobody knew the difference for a couple weeks.”

  “That is helpful. Can you tell me the name of the person who told you about the empty apartment?”

  “That’s Mrs. Waterstone, down in 103. She’s probably home. Don’t scare her.”

  “We won’t, and I apologize again.”

  “I’m mostly over it. I might even think it’s exciting later. Look, take her a cupcake.” Lipwitch transferred one onto a little paper doily. “She’s got a sweet tooth. And I guess if anybody knows anything about anybody, it’s Mrs. Waterstone.”

  Eve started downstairs with the cupcake. “Officers Carmichael and Shelby, mission abort. Suspect no longer lives here. Do a canvass of the neighborhood, show her photo. Maybe we’ll hit something.”

  At the bottom of the stairs, Detective Carmichael pointed a finger. “That’s a cupcake.”

  “Excellent powers of observation, Detective.”

  “You’ve got a cupcake.”

  “No, Mrs. Waterstone in 103 is getting a cupcake.”

  “I got one I’m sharing because that’s the kind of exceptional human being I am. Break off a bite.”

  “Thanks.”

  “Then head back to DeLano’s neighborhood and keep at it,” Eve told them.

  Santiago broke off a bite himself. “She’s slippery, boss.”

  “Yeah. She’s damn slippery.”

  “Want, Peabody?”

  Peabody eyed the chunk left in Callendar’s palm. “Half of that because loose pants.”

  “Half. Dallas?”

  Eve shook her head, headed to 103.

  “She is Woman of Steel,” Callendar observed. “Who says no to cupcake?” And since it was there, she popped the last bite in her mouth.

  Eve buzzed at 103, got another staticky intercom.

  “Yes?”

  “Mrs. Waterstone, I’m Lieutenant Dallas with the NYPSD.”

  “You’re a little out of your neighborhood, dear.”

  “Yes, ma’am. Your neighbor upstairs, Ms. Lipwitch, said you might be able to help us with information on a former tenant of the building. And she sent you a cupcake.”

  A rattle, a click, and the door opened to a tiny black woman with a snow-white bubble of hair and a cheerful smile. “She knows my sweet tooth. Goodness, three of you, and all girls. All girl police?”

  “Yes, ma’am.”

  “That’s what I’m talking about. That, and that cupcake. Well, come ahead in. I just finished all my chores and was about to sit down with my book. This should be even more fun. Do you want tea?”

  “No, thanks.”

  If chores meant cleaning the apartment, the little woman was a champ on chores. It all but glimmered. While the furniture showed years of use, it didn’t carry so much as a speck of dust.

  By book, Eve realized she meant the real thing. Roarke would have approved of the shelves packed with them.

  Photos tucked in here and there, a lot of kids’ faces.

  “Now, you girls have a seat and tell me what you want to know.”

  “Did you know Ann Elizabeth Smith?”

  “The little mouse who used to live upstairs? Couldn’t say I knew her. Wouldn’t say boo to a goose, whatever the hell that means. Why would anybody? What’s she done?”

  “We’d like to talk to her.”

  “You can’t bamboozle me, dear.” Waterstone set the chair into an easy rock. “I was a teacher for fifty-five years. I know all, see all. I have three girl cops at my door asking about her, she did something big. Wouldn’t surprise me.”

  “Why do you say that?”

  “Sneaky, unfriendly, unhappy. A bad combination. I never once saw her bring anybody home, or have a visitor.”

  Waterstone paused to tap her finger on the arm of her rocking chair. “That’s not healthy. I did get out of her she worked as a seamstress at Dobb’s. That’s high society there. I like to sew a little myself, but I couldn’t get her to talk to me. Asked her in a couple of times, but she scurried away. The girl up there now, with her sweet girl? Nice as they come, but the other one? She had a look about her. The word is furtive.

  “I do recall her coming in one time—late in the day—crying. Mad crying, if you understand me, not heartbroken crying. Carrying a package. I asked what
was wrong, like you do, and she yelled at me. First time she looked straight at me, first time she spoke to me above a mutter. Told me to mind my own damn business. And since she’s right above me, I could hear her slamming around, stomping around for a good hour after. There’s a bad temper inside that little mouse. You’ll want to be careful when you find her, dear.”

  “Would you have any idea where we might find her?”

  “I’m sorry to say I don’t. She left here in a hurry, or so it seemed. She must’ve had whatever furniture she had moved when I was out. I didn’t know she was gone, only that I didn’t hear her upstairs. I’m going to say I was worried some—and nosy—so I went up and buzzed. Then I contacted the management because, well, that kind of unhappy can come to a bad end. I thought maybe she’d killed herself. Turned out she’d just moved on. Left the rent, though, every penny. That’s when I told Gracie upstairs about the apartment. It’s a happier building now. That other girl, she carried a cloud with her. And sooner or later, clouds break into a storm.”

  21

  Eve walked fast, talked fast.

  “Officer Carmichael,” she snapped into her comm. “I want you and Shelby to hit every building, every apartment, every shop, restaurant, take-out joint, and dive on this block. Peabody, send them and the detectives the photos of all her looks. Show all of them to every resident, shopkeeper, sidewalk sleeper, and street thief.”

  She got behind the wheel. “Plug this Dobb’s place in,” she told Peabody, then contacted Santiago. “Peabody’s sending you pictures. Hit every building on DeLano’s block, and every building in the shopping area where the kid spotted the suspect. Somebody’s seen this bitch.”

  She peeled out. “She’s not far, she won’t have gone far,” she stated. “Maybe changed her look again. She’s smart enough for that, but she can’t change her nature. She still has to earn a living.”

  As she drove, she contacted Feeney. “Anything?”

  “You’re there. The addy Peabody shot to McNab.”

  “She’s blown.”

  “Not surprised. She went dark from there about nine months ago. Nothing posted or sent from that location since. We’re working through another batch. Thing is, she got into a couple of tangles on one of those writer sites—didn’t take criticism very well, and she shut it down. Pulled her stuff off, from what we can see.”

  “That’s her break. Nobody appreciates her art. She’ll show them. Not just DeLano, nobody. Keep at it.” She clicked off. “Callendar.”

  “Yo.”

  “Peabody’s going to send you what we’ve got on a search for the next target. I know you’ve only got your handheld, but pick it up.”

  “Copy that. Does this AC back here—and that is frosty enough—have fizzies?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “It does,” Peabody told her.

  “Excelente. Put one on my tab. I gotta keep the sugar going.”

  Time for reinforcements, Eve thought, and tagged Roarke.

  She expected to go through his admin, Caro, but he answered himself.

  “Good afternoon, Lieutenant.”

  “Yeah. Listen, have you got any time for consultant work?”

  “I may. Depending on the fee.” He smiled.

  “Ha. I’ve got EDD working two separate searches, and don’t want to lay another on them. I ID’d the suspect and her location, but she poofed from there months ago. Ann Elizabeth Smith. I’ve got men in the field canvassing two locations, because she’s damn sure still in Brooklyn. I need a deep dive into her financials, and whatever shadow accounts she might have set up.”

  “Poking into other people’s money is vastly entertaining. Will you work at home or Central?”

  “Central, for now anyway. I’m heading for Dobb’s in Brooklyn first.”

  “Going shopping then?”

  “Well, they’re having a big shoe sale.”

  “And there’s nothing you’d enjoy more. I’ll be at Central in an hour, an hour and a half latest.”

  “Appreciate it. Gotta go.”

  She spotted Dobb’s—a three-story, elegantly faded brick building with big display windows and a large brass plaque embossed with its name over fancy double doors.

  She considered pulling into its underground lot, thought, Fuck it, and zipped into a no-parking zone, flipped on her on duty light.

  “I’ll stick,” Callendar said from the back, “keep on this, unless you need me in there.”

  “Stick.”

  “I’ve never been in here.” Peabody climbed out, studied the window display of mannequins that appeared to be strolling over the deck of a cruise ship in flowy pants, sheer dresses. Another stretched out on a lounge chair in a bathing suit that cut down to the gemstone glittering in her navel while she held a tall glass topped with a pink umbrella. Everyone’s hair fluttered as if from an ocean breeze.

  “It’s February,” Eve commented. “Why aren’t they wearing coats, sweaters, boots?”

  “It’s February,” Peabody agreed. “That’s when rich people get out of the cold and go on cruises or to warm places. So cruise wear.”

  “In New York, and that includes Brooklyn, it’s February.”

  Eve pushed through the fancy doors.

  She saw it coming, the three people in sharp black with maniacal smiles converging on her from three directions. Like a pincer movement on the battlefield.

  All armed with spritzers.

  “Any of you who sprays me with any of that crap is going to be arrested for assault.” She whipped out her badge. “Where’s Alterations?”

  Two slunk away, but one stood firm—all six feet of her—in towering black heels that should have had her feet screaming in protest.

  “Any of our consultants on the second or third floor can assist you with a fitting expert.”

  “I don’t want a fitting expert. I want Alterations.”

  The woman’s smile never wavered. “Any of our consultants on the second or third—”

  “Never mind.”

  Eve strode toward the glide. Behind her back, Peabody stuck out her arm, turned up her wrist, invited a spritz.

  She sniffed at it as she hurried after Eve. “Too musky.”

  “What?”

  “Nothing.”

  “I can smell you. You smell like you slept in somebody’s great-grandmother’s attic.”

  “Yeah, too musky.” As she walked, Peabody rubbed her spritzed wrist on her thigh. “My mistake.”

  Eve glanced around the second floor. Racks and shelves of clothes, little alcoves with names of designers above the entrances full of more. A lot of frozen fake people wearing outfits. Three grouped together appeared to have a conversation as they posed.

  And that was just creepy.

  Eve arrowed toward an actual person, one carrying a couple pair of those flowy pants, and moving too fast to be a customer.

  “Hold it.”

  “Good afternoon! I’m sorry, I’m with a customer. Let me call for a consultant to assist you.”

  “I need Alterations.”

  “Of course. Just let me—”

  “Get me, ah, Jill. Formal wear. Blond, big blue eyes.”

  “I’ll call for her right away. Just one moment.”

  When she hurried away, Eve decided to give it exactly two minutes before she shoved her badge into someone’s face.

  Jill made it in about ninety seconds. When she saw Eve, her big eyes went bigger yet.

  “I didn’t say anything to anybody! I swear!”

  “We’re not here for that. I need you to take me to Alterations.”

  “Oh. Gosh. Customers aren’t allowed down there.”

  Eve drew out her badge, but didn’t shove it into Jill’s face. “This makes me a cop, not a customer.”

  Behind Eve’s back Peabody dropped her hand from the sweater she’d been stroking.

  “Look, Jill, I’m pressed for time. I can get the store manager, go through the damn protocol, or you can just take me where I need
to go.”

  “I guess. Okay. I guess it’s okay because you’re the police. I saw the vid and everything.”

  “Great. Lead the way.”

  “We should take the elevator. It’s in the basement, and you have to swipe to get down there. It’s employees only.”

  The elevator proved roomier than the ones at Central, and not as packed with bodies. But once you added the multitude of shopping bags, a baby in one of those wheeled chairs—strollers, Eve remembered—and a good-size dog in a plaid sweater, it made a decent crush.

  Everybody poured off on the main floor. Jill swiped for the basement.

  Given the underground location, Eve expected a sweatshop atmosphere. Dozens of people huddled over machines, or killing their backs and feet crouched over worktables and stations. Bad lighting, chilly air.

  Instead, she stepped into a brightly lit area where about a half dozen people worked on machines or with hand tools at individual stations. Some of them chatted away as they worked. Some wore headsets and bopped a bit like an e-geek.

  “This is the main area,” Jill told her. “There’s like a break room and the bathrooms, and a supply area, but—”

  “This works. Thanks.”

  “I can go back up?”

  “Yeah. Keep it zipped for now.”

  “I will. I swear!” She escaped.

  A woman, dark hair coiled at the nape, some sort of magnifier hanging from a fancy chain around her neck, came out of the back, started toward a station.

  She spotted Eve and Peabody, shifted direction.

  She looked to be about sixty, Eve judged, with perfect makeup and a trim black jacket over pegged pants.

  She wore sensible shoes.

  “I’m very sorry, this is an employees-only work area. Can I escort you back to the store?”

  Eve drew out her badge. “We need to speak with the supervisor.”

  “You are. I’m Conchita Gomez. How can I help you?”

  “Lieutenant Dallas, Detective Peabody. You once employed an Ann Elizabeth Smith.”

  “That’s correct. Ms. Smith left Dobb’s employ several months ago. May I ask what this is in reference to?”

  “We’re looking for Ms. Smith for questioning regarding an investigation.”

  Gomez kept her voice low, under the hum of machines. “Your badge said Homicide.”

 
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