Dark in death, p.31
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       Dark in Death, p.31
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         Part #46 of In Death series by J. D. Robb

  “That’s correct.”

  “Is Ann a suspect in a murder?”

  “We need to locate Ms. Smith.”

  “I don’t know how to help you. She did good work here, was paid well. When she handed in her notice, I was surprised, and asked her if there was a problem. She only said she had other priorities and needs. I offered to request a raise for her, but she refused, in her way.”

  “Her way?”

  “Head down. ‘Thank you, but I’ll finish my current alterations before I leave.’ I hated to lose her, as her work was exemplary.”

  “And otherwise?”

  “Painfully shy, I suppose. She didn’t mix well. I run an efficient department, and we can be extremely busy. But good working conditions, community, contented employees help foster that good work and efficiency. Ann was efficient and creative. I wouldn’t describe her as content.”

  “Any outbursts?”

  “From Ann?” Gomez patted at the coil at the nape of her neck. “Absolutely no. Although I sensed something simmering in her silence. She rarely spoke to anyone.”

  “Where’d she work?”

  “Last station, left. I know she did side work. Most of them do. I look the other way as long as it doesn’t interfere with the work assigned here.”

  “Do you know specific customers? It could be important,” Eve added when Gomez hesitated.

  “I can’t say I know, but I certainly have an opinion.”

  “I’d like a list of your opinions.”

  Dark eyes registered surprise, but the voice stayed smooth. “All right. Let me look through my files and compile that for you. It is opinion, not concrete.”

  “Understood. I’d like to talk to the other seamstresses.”

  “Not all of them knew her. Ming, in Ann’s former station, came on after Ann had left. And Della only last month after our cherished CeCe retired. First station, right.”

  “If I could interrupt the work for just a few minutes.”

  Gomez turned to the room. “Ladies!” she called out. “And Beau,” she added with a little smile to the only male in the room. “This is Lieutenant Dallas with the NYPSD. She needs to speak with us.”

  “Does anyone know the whereabouts of Ann Elizabeth Smith?”

  Eve watched people glance at each other, a couple baffled, others fascinated or curious. Nobody spoke until Beau shrugged.

  “She used to work here. Quit. She was stuck-up anyway.”

  If Eve had seen him from a distance, she’d have pegged him as mid-teens. He had an explosion of curling purple hair under a knit cap, a narrow goatee with a silver stud in the center of his chin, and a slouchy posture now that he’d kicked back from his machine.

  Still, he had about fifteen years on the mid-teens.

  “Stuck-up.”

  “Wouldn’t talk to you if you were on fire. Wouldn’t contribute to the pool. We do pools for birthdays and stuff. And the Secret Santa deal. Hell, I put in for that, and I’m Jewish.”

  “You didn’t much like her.”

  “I didn’t like her at all. Sorry, Cheeta,” he added with a grin to his supervisor. “It didn’t break my heart when she split.”

  “Any idea where she split to?”

  “Not a clue.”

  In the back, across from Smith’s former station, a tiny redhead raised her hand. “Um, is she in trouble?”

  “We need to speak with her,” Eve said.

  “It’s just, she was sort of nice to me once, and I don’t like to get people in trouble.”

  “Yolanda, it’s very important you tell the police anything you know.”

  At her supervisor’s firm, quiet voice, Yolanda hunched up her shoulders. “Once, when I was really slammed, she helped me out a little bit, and that was nice of her.”

  “I think she was writing a book or something.”

  Eve looked over at a sturdy blonde. “Did she tell you that?”

  “She never told anybody anything. I came in early one day to finish up some work because I was going on vacation. She was here, back in the break room. You have to pay for snacks, but the coffee and tea and water are free. She was back there with coffee, working on her tablet. She was into it because she didn’t even hear me, and I looked over her shoulder like you do. She was writing stuff, and I said: ‘Hey, you writing a book or what?’ She jumped like a mile, and grabbed her stuff. Didn’t even say a word, just ran out.”

  “I saw her once. After she quit,” Yolanda added.

  “When?” Eve fired back. “Where?”

  “Well, gosh. A couple months ago. I was shopping for Christmas with my mom and sister. She looked a little different, but I knew it was her.”

  “Different how?”

  “Her hair. She’d cut it. She always wore it long, back in a tail, but she’d cut it to right above her shoulders, and dyed it really red. I thought it was a nice change for her. I guess—I don’t want to be mean—but maybe she gained some weight? She had on this big coat, and she looked a little bulky in it.”

  “Did it have penguins on it?”

  “Yes! So I saw her, and I called out, like you would. And I waved. I was going to cross the street and say hi, see what she was doing, but when she saw me, she just kept going. Walking away fast. It hurt my feelings a little.”

  “Where?”

  Yolanda chewed on her lip, then her thumbnail. “Um.”

  “Just try to think back to what you were doing when you saw her. Across the street,” Eve prompted. “In the big coat with penguins on it.”

  “I think … I guess … We did a lot of shopping that day, but it was either over on Third Avenue or maybe over on Ninth Street. I mostly think Third Avenue, right after we came out of Baby Love. My brother and his wife had a baby right before Thanksgiving, so we shopped there. I think that was it. Or else it was when we were on Ninth Street. It was back in December for sure, though. The first Saturday in December, because I asked for the day off—right, Cheeta? Cheeta can check. I asked for it off so we could go shopping as a team. And have lunch and—before lunch!”

  Now Yolanda clapped her hands together, as if she’d won a prize. “Before lunch. I’m sure it was because it hurt my feelings when she saw me and walked away, and I talked about it at lunch. So the baby store for sure.”

  “That’s very helpful, Yolanda.”

  “I hate to get her in trouble.”

  “You haven’t. You may have helped others out of it. If anyone remembers anything more, I’m going to leave cards with your supervisor. Contact me, anytime. Ms. Gomez, if you can compile that list.”

  “I’ll need about an hour. Last year’s files would have been archived, as would a former employee’s tickets—work tickets.”

  “Send it to me the minute you have it. Thank you for your time.”

  In the elevator Eve pulled out her ’link.

  “That was a lucky break,” Peabody commented.

  “Maybe. Time to call in the locals.” She tagged her contact. “Lieutenant McMahon, Lieutenant Dallas. I’m still on your turf.”

  By the time she got to the car she had Brooklyn ready to canvass the two areas Yolanda gave her.

  “Anything?” she asked Callendar, who worked, car-seat danced, and slurped a fizzie in the back.

  “Got a list started.”

  “I’m going to have another coming in. We’re going to cross yours with that, see if we get any matches. Can you stick with this, Callendar?”

  “You got me until the cap says different. Somebody smells like a fancy girl’s gym locker, after a sweaty volleyball game.”

  “I’ve got to get it off!” Peabody rubbed at her wrist. “It was just a little spritz.”

  “Serves you right.”

  Eve took off, updated her teams—both of which currently batted zero.

  “Shorter red hair,” she murmured as she wove through traffic. “She needed that to stalk Glaze in character, to select which woman connected to him would be her primary target.”

  “Prob
ably a rinse,” Callendar murmured back.

  “A what?”

  “Maybe she dyed it, maybe she went with temp color. You got somebody needing the different looks to become different killers, smarter to rinse it so you can wash it out, change it back, or change it to something else.”

  “Like Mavis,” Peabody explained.

  “It just washes out?”

  “It takes a few times—and you can seal it so it won’t wash out for more than a few. Like my tips. I want to try them out for a while—not make a total commitment, right? It costs more to seal it up, but you can still do it all yourself. Home jobs.”

  “Home jobs—that’s what I heard before, too,” Eve remembered. “The next killer she’ll become is male. Dark brown curly hair—past the jawline. I was figuring wig, but she’s on a budget. Which is cheaper, home-job curls or wig?”

  “Home job,” Peabody and Callendar said together.

  “Especially temp curls. You can wash them out, too,” Peabody added. “You can get them with a hair tool and some product. If you want longer lasting, you need to do a home perm.”

  “What does ‘perm’—whatever that is—have to do with curly hair?”

  “I don’t know,” Peabody realized. “It’s just called that. I’m betting the tool and product. You can use the tool for years, and the product’s not that expensive. Wash or brush out your hair, you shed the character—and the disguise.”

  “Yeah, that’s my bet. Those areas the seamstress gave us—neither of them are close to DeLano. She wasn’t out stalking DeLano. She lives or works around there. I say both. Working private now, working in her own place. As little contact with people as Smith as she can manage. She needs to keep Smith fluid and ready to absorb characters. Her priority is to live the scene, writing it her way. Her needs and priorities couldn’t be met if she spent all day sewing in a basement.”

  She played with angles, calculated probabilities on the drive back to Central. When traffic slowed on the bridge, she took a year or two off Peabody’s life by going vertical for ten car lengths. In the back, Callendar didn’t even blink.

  When she pulled into her slot, Eve shoved out of the car. “Callendar, keep at it, but send me what you’ve got so far.”

  “Can do. Will do.”

  “Peabody, contact the team, tell them to shift over to these new areas, coordinate with the locals. And add a male with dark brown curly hair to the list.”

  She got on the elevator, thinking, thinking, thinking. Hopped off when it insisted on stopping on every level for others to pile on. “Callendar, let Feeney know I’m back in the house, and need whatever he can give me.”

  “Can and will. Cha.”

  Eve jumped on a glide, kept moving up while Peabody hustled to match her pace.

  “Slippery, she’s slippery, lives in her own head most of the time, lived in the shadows all her life. Choice or circumstance, but she lived there. Writing’s going to be her way into the light, then she gets shut down. DeLano won’t read her work. That’s the first crack. Decides DeLano’s stolen from her, stolen her work, her chance. That’s the next crack, and what’s been simmering in there starts leaking out. She has to pay for stealing that light. And Smith has to shove everything else aside and focus. Quits her job. She can manage on the side work and whatever she’s squirreled away. She can get a smaller, cheaper place. But then, she’s putting her work out there, showing it off, and people—jealous fuckers—criticize it.”

  “Some would be downright mean on top of it,” Peabody predicted. “It’s easy to be mean online.”

  “And that’s the final break. The cracks just explode. She’s better than all of them. She’s sure as hell better than that bitch thief DeLano. Screw the light. It’s the dark that has the power. The dark that can kill and get away with it. I see her,” Eve stated. “I see her. I’ll know her when I look in her eyes.”

  She headed straight to her office, pulled up short when she found Roarke working on her comp, working at her desk.

  He glanced up. “And there you are. If you want this, you’ll need to give me another minute. I started here, as it’s handy and in a quiet spot.”

  “Keep going. I need a minute, too.”

  She tossed aside her coat, contacted Yancy.

  “Where are you?” she asked as the screen showed movement.

  “Just heading out. End of shift.”

  “I need a favor.”

  “What’s the favor?”

  “The sketch. Can you use it to do another? She’ll be going male, curly dark brown hair, about jaw length. Well groomed. Rich guy. No facial hair. Age about thirty-five.” She cast her mind back into the book for more details. “Heavier eyebrows and blue eyes. Dark blue, almost navy.”

  “I can do that. It won’t take long.”

  “I’ll owe you. Send it to me when you’ve got it.”

  She programmed coffee, paced, tried working on her PPC, as Roarke hogged the comp.

  “Would you like to know what I’ve got?”

  She all but pounced. “Yes.”

  “Ann E. Smith left Delaware with sixty-three thousand and change in savings. She had no income for half a year, and listed ‘novelist’ on her tax returns, with documentation for writing supplies.”

  “If she lived off her savings for six months, that sixty-three didn’t go far in New York.”

  “Rent and utilities ate more than half in that tax year. She sought and found employment at Dobb’s, lived frugally. She paid her rent, taxes, all bills promptly and in full. I’d say she used cash for most expenses, as there is no credit or debit card in her name. Approximately nine months ago, she withdrew all funds from the local bank she used, stopped paying rent, stopped reporting income. Essentially, she’s been living off the grid since that time.”

  “You’re confirming what I have, but giving me nothing new.”

  He swiveled in his chair. “Essentially, the nothing is the new. She has no bank or brokerage accounts. None. She deals in cash. This means whatever income she may receive is also cash based. It’s possible to get checks cashed at some outlets, for a fee, but why would she? Cash leaves no paper trail. When she withdrew her funds, they amounted to thirty-three thousand and change. So in addition to her pay from Dobb’s she likely did some side business in cash, banked it, or a portion of it. To survive on side business and those dwindling savings, her expenses have to be cut to the bone. I’d look for her in an SRO. Being off the grid, she can’t apply for assistance, and would be unlikely to pass the vetting in most established rentals.”

  “We had a sighting, two months ago. I need to bring up a map.”

  He got up, offered her the chair. “Have at it.”

  “Brooklyn. Flatbush … this area. What the hell is there?”

  “Let’s see.” Leaning over, he manually shifted a few things. “Working-class area—family restaurants, shops, residential, some studios. She couldn’t afford to live there with what she has. If she took other employment—”

  “She hasn’t.”

  “Well then.” He shifted things again. “Only a few blocks south. A little rougher, certainly cheaper. More your tat parlors, dives, haunts for the street people, and your projects and SROs.”

  She contacted Santiago, relayed the area. “Push there, pass that to the other team and the locals. SROs most likely, but she could’ve slithered into the projects. Check private homes that take in borders. Some of them do that off the books.”

  “Very good,” Roarke said when she clicked off. “I hadn’t thought of that last one. Which is why you’re the cop. And one, I’ll wager, who hasn’t eaten since breakfast.”

  “I’ve been busy.”

  He went to the AutoChef, programmed her a slice of the pizza she’d forgotten he’d somehow stocked in there.

  “Fine. Thanks.” She bit in. “Jesus, that’s good. She’s likely gone off the Internet, too. Feeney found her, but she went dark the same time she quit and ditched the apartment. That’s her break, that’s
when she got serious about killing. But not DeLano—who’s responsible in her head. She has to prove something first. She’s better—and the villain’s superior to the hero. That’s her mission. That’s her new passion.”

  “She’s lived a lonely life.”

  “Her choice, that’s first. And a lot of people do who don’t decide to kill strangers to prove a fucking point.”

  He heard the frustration under the cool, rubbed a hand on her shoulder. “I can’t argue it.”

  “I don’t know when she’s going to move on the next, but she won’t wait long. She can’t. She feels the squeeze, so she needs to finish. She’s got three out of eight, not even halfway there—and don’t forget DeLano for the final chapter. She has to move soon.”

  She grabbed the incoming when it signaled, studied Yancy’s sketch. “This is good. It’s her, but just enough like the character. This is how she’ll look when she goes for the next kill. Maybe how she looks now as she gears up for it.”

  She sent the sketch to Santiago and the rest of the team.

  She pounced again at another incoming.

  “And that?” Roarke asked.

  “Head seamstress at Dobb’s. Customers she thinks Smith did side work for. Good, this is good. Only fourteen names.”

  Roarke lifted his eyebrows when her comp signaled again. “Aren’t you Lieutenant Busy Bee today?”

  “Callendar. She’s pushing through on what we started in the search for the potential target. Gonna cross-check and maybe. Son of a bitch, son of a big, beautiful bitch, we got one. Natalia Durban Berkle.”

  “Ah, I know Natalia a little. She’s very philanthropic if a cause appeals. A widow now, since her husband fell off a mountain.”

  That jerked Eve back. “Fell off a mountain?”

  “Attempting to climb one. Off, or it might have been into—as in crevice. Either way? Oops.”

  “Huh. Does she like you?”

  He smiled. “Why wouldn’t she?”

  “Right. You’re with me.” She grabbed her coat, calling for Peabody as she went.

  22

  With Roarke behind the wheel, Eve used the drive time to the Upper East Side to dig into the data on Berkle.

 
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