Dark in death, p.33
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       Dark in Death, p.33
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         Part #46 of In Death series by J. D. Robb

  A woman of about fifty—white apron over a black dress—squeaked, slapped both hands to her mouth.

  “Stay quiet. NYPSD.” Lowering her weapon, Eve drew out her badge. “Peabody.”

  Peabody pulled out the photo. “Is this woman in the house?”

  “Y-y-yes. Upstairs, with Ms. Felicity.”

  “Where?” Eve demanded. “Exactly where?”

  “But-but-but—”

  “Your employer’s at risk. Where are they?”

  “Second floor, west wing, double doors at the end of the hallway.”

  “Go back into the kitchen. Stay there.”

  As Eve started up the stairs, Felicity turned in front of the triple mirror. “I’m so glad you called, Ann. Getting all these pieces fitted tonight takes the rush off, doesn’t it? And it makes me think of spring.”

  She turned again. “And the fact that my new trainer’s helped me take off six pounds! And I really wanted you to do the alterations. The seamstress at my boutique just doesn’t have your touch.”

  Well used to dominating the conversation during fittings, Felicity sipped some wine and rambled on.

  “I just can’t get over your new ’do. Such a bold and fun choice. I really like the new look.”

  She didn’t, not a bit—the curls struck her as too tight and mannish. But she wanted to be kind.

  “I do wish you’d look through those clothes Marlene and I culled out of my collection. I know they’d look wonderful on you.”

  And considerably better, Felicity thought, than the mannish trousers and jacket.

  “We’ll have a look after you’ve finished,” she insisted. “We’ll have some fun with it, and …”

  When Felicity saw the tall woman in the long black coat step into the dressing room doorway with a—was that a stunner?—in her hand, she squeaked much like her devoted housekeeper.

  Ann, busy pinning, saw the reflection, too. She pulled the sheers out of her belt, dragged Felicity back against her with the keen points pressed to Felicity’s throat.

  “I’ll slice her throat!” Her voice hit a masculine growl, suiting the trousers, the white dress shirt. “Drop that weapon, or the bitch dies.”

  “That’s bad dialogue, Ann. Clichéd.”

  “My name’s Calvin Underwood, and my penny-pinching mother’s going to get what’s coming to her. Back off!”

  “If you’re Calvin, let’s see your dick. Otherwise, Ann Elizabeth Smith, drop those sharps. If you jab her, I take you out. If you don’t jab her, I take you out. Either way, you’re going down.”

  “Fuck you!”

  “On the contrary.” Felicity rammed back with her elbow, followed through with a vicious back fist.

  The sheers clattered to the floor as Smith fell back from the double blow, smacked into the triple mirror. She went down with a crash of shattering glass.

  “Twenty-one years’ bad luck,” Felicity said and kicked the sheers away. “Damn it, I really liked that mirror.”

  “Excellent moves, Ms. Lomare. Peabody, secure the suspect.”

  “Suspect, my ass. She was going to kill me.” Wincing a little, she reached up, dabbed at the shallow cut on her throat. “Nicked me a little, didn’t she?”

  “Just a little.” Roarke stepped forward with a handkerchief, dabbed at the blood.

  “I know you, handsome. Roarke. I met you with my friend Natalia a few times.”

  “I remember well. Let me see that very pretty hand. Yes, indeed, you’ll have some bruising. You’ll want an ice patch and a healing wand.”

  “It’s nothing. Takes me back. I was counterintelligence during the Urbans.”

  Eve studied her—pretty in almost a candy-coated way. Small and slim and likely, like her best friend, pushing seventy.

  “You haven’t lost those moves.”

  “You never do. Now who the hell is Calvin, and why does this very rude young woman think I’m her mother?”

  “It’s a long story.”

  “Good. I dropped my wine, and I definitely want another. You can tell me that long story.”

  “Where is your ’link, ma’am?”

  “My ’link?” She looked distracted—and once again harmless—as she glanced blankly around the room. “I’m always leaving it somewhere. Maybe by the bed. No! The bathroom. No, the sitting room. I think.”

  “Peabody, contact Ms. Berkle and let her know her friend is safe and well.”

  “Natalia? What does she have to do with this?”

  “I’m going to explain. Roarke, why don’t you take Ms. Lomare downstairs, get her that wine. I’ll be down shortly.”

  “One question first. Would you have fired while she had those sheers to my throat?”

  “I’d have fired before she jabbed them into your throat.”

  “I thought so. Good for you.” She laughed when Roarke offered her his arm. “Such a charmer. You married a cop, didn’t you? Of course you did, I remember now.” She glanced back. “That one?”

  “That’s my cop.”

  “Handsome, charming, and excellent taste. Let’s have some wine.”

  “I think she’s my new hero,” Peabody said. “Suspect is out cold.”

  “Call for the wagon. Let’s have her hauled down and booked. I really want her in the box.”

  Eve pulled out her comm when it signaled. “Santiago, suspect is secure.”

  “Glad to hear it. We’re in her place, Dallas, and I’m going to say she’s going to stay secure, in a cage, for the rest of her natural life. Take a look at this.”

  The screen shifted, showed her a wall, dingy behind photos of victims. And their alternates, Eve noted. The three she’d killed had bloodred X’s over their faces. She’d labeled each with their fictional name, and added a picture of herself as she’d been dressed for the kill.

  The victim wall panned down to Felicity, and Eve saw she’d been right about Berkle being the alternate. Four more sections revealed she had other targets selected, and alternates.

  With a large photo of DeLano framed after the eight targets. And, Eve noted, not without some small satisfaction, one of herself as the final chapter.

  Along with the photos were street maps, transportation routes, schedules. Sketches of outfits—the coats, trousers, hairstyles.

  Interesting, Eve noted. The character written—or being written—to kill her dressed as a uniform cop. Smith had named her Officer Lucy Borgia.

  “Plotting to kill a police officer.” Santiago tipped his hat. “That’s going to leave a mark. Anyway, we sent for an e-person—locals are cooperating and working with us. She’s got a cheap little comp here, but it’s passcoded. We figured to let the geeks take it. I don’t know why she bothered, as she’s got handwritten notes all over the damn place. Souvenirs, too. Looks like she has a used tube of lip dye—Carmichael’s betting she took it off the first vic.”

  “For Christ’s sake, don’t bet her. You’ll be wearing that hat until spring.”

  “I learned my lesson. She printed out the ticket from the vids on the second killing, took a bar coaster from the third. She’s got them in this handmade box marked TREASURES. It’s all decorated. She’s got her work stuff—actual work. The sewing machine thing and supplies, one of those dummies. Looks like she was in the middle of making some fancy dress.”

  “The next killer in the series is a married socialite who killed her secret working-class lover in her workshop with a hammer after she dumped her.”

  “Well, hell hath no fury, right? We got her cold, LT.”

  Eve glanced back at the unconscious Smith. “In more ways than one.”

  23

  Often Eve faced a suspect in the box with the goal of squeezing out a confession, tripping them up, pulling out details to polish off a case.

  This time she had what she needed. But the courts liked everything spelled out, so she’d push Smith to spell it out.

  And there was, in addition, the sheer satisfaction of facing off with a killer.

  “I’ve
got this,” Eve told Peabody. “You can go home, get some sleep.”

  “No way I’m missing the end of this story. We can call it Dark Justice, The Final Chapter.”

  “You’ve been saving that one.”

  “All damn day.”

  Eve picked up files, headed out. “Roarke’s already in Observation because he feels the same.”

  “Are you sure you don’t want Mira here?”

  “She can review the record, evaluate Smith tomorrow. No point dragging her out for this tonight. I already know Smith isn’t likely to pass the legal sanity level. It doesn’t matter.”

  “It chaps my thighs,” Peabody complained. “Jesus, Dallas, she was planning to go after you.”

  “I like that part.” Shook her up, Eve mused, just as planned. Added to those rewrites and shook things up.

  “Think of it this way,” she continued. “There’s a very interesting woman alive and well tonight because we worked the case and bagged a killer. There are four other people who won’t have to worry about having a target on their backs. Add DeLano, possibly her family. And if she’d slipped through on us, she wouldn’t have stopped there. I’m not talking about me.”

  “I don’t know if DeLano would have published the next Dark novel if Smith was at large.”

  “She wouldn’t have stopped,” Eve repeated. “I think she’d have used her own failed novel. The killer hero. I think she’s always been going there. And once she took on that role, she’d have had a lot of pages to fill.”

  Eve paused outside the Interview door. “Ready?”

  “So ready.”

  Eve stepped in. “Dallas, Lieutenant Eve, and Peabody, Detective Delia, entering Interview with Smith, Ann Elizabeth, on the matters of …” She paused as if to check her files, rattled off the case numbers.

  She sat, waited for Peabody to take the other chair. “Have you been read your rights, Ms. Smith?”

  When Smith didn’t respond, just sat head down, shoulders hunched, arms defensively across her chest, Eve shrugged. “I happen to know you were—once you regained consciousness and had medical treatment—as I read them to you myself. As the record will show. But we’ll go over them again. We’ve got all the time in the world.”

  Eve recited the Revised Miranda, waited. “Do you understand your rights and obligations in this matter? If you don’t, I can explain them to you point by point. Like I said, all the time in the world.”

  Smith mumbled.

  “Please speak up for the record.”

  “I understand.”

  “Good. I’m going to be straight with you, Ann. We’ve got you cold on three counts of murder—that’s first degree—and one count of attempted murder. We’ve got your—let’s call it your storyboard and your drafts of plotlines for future victims. We’ve got the ice pick you used to kill Chanel Rylan along with the printout of the vid ticket placing you in the theater that night. We’ve got your reversible coat—and the security feed showing you entering and exiting the theater. We have an eyewitness placing you outside the flop where Rosie Kent was strangled, and the drug you used to knock her out.”

  Eve flipped through the files. “Oh, yeah, we have the red hair dye and a couple of blue faux hairs that will match the blue dreads recovered a short distance from Screw U—you yanked out some of your own hair when you pulled them off, so we also have that. Then there’s the club itself, where we have additional eyewitnesses verifying you ordered the drink you then doctored and served to Loxie Flash. Then there’s the mink hoodie you stole—let’s go ahead and add that charge of grand theft while we’ve got you here.

  “Are you following me here, Ann?”

  Smith shifted her eyes up for an instant. The right showed the bruising and swelling caused by a dead-on backhanded blow. Eve saw the flicker of temper before Smith lowered her gaze again.

  Good. She’d fan the flames.

  “I can sit here and list all the evidence we have against you, but you already know all that. You may not know that I’ve just gotten a report from our lab, from our expert on hair and fiber. The coat you left behind at the club? She found both hair and fiber on it—you were in a hurry, after all. A strand of hair that matches the hair taken from a brush in your apartment, and the blue dreads. Some fibers from the clothes you wore the night you killed Loxie Flash match clothes recovered from your apartment. She put a rush on that work for me, so we can wrap this up, nice and neat.

  “She’ll find trace on the reversible coat, too. And, you know, there’s just a little bit of blood on the sleeve of the reversible coat—the dark side. You probably didn’t notice, but we did. It’s going to be Chanel Rylan’s blood.”

  Eve sat back, slid photos of the dead out of the file. “So, sloppy work, Ann. Careless, sloppy work.”

  Smith’s shoulders tightened. She shook her head.

  “Oh, yeah, sloppy and careless. Since we’ve got that in the bag, let’s move on to motive. We’ve got that, too. Blaine DeLano and her Dark series. We’re big fans, aren’t we, Peabody?”

  “I love those books. Can’t get enough. The way Dark hunts down the bad guys? Man, she’s smart. And she’s fearless.”

  “She’s a thief,” Smith muttered.

  “Sorry, did you say something?” Peabody asked.

  “She’s a thief.”

  “Deann Dark?”

  “No! Blaine DeLano. She stole from me.”

  “Oh right, right.” Eve waved a hand in the air. “She mentioned something about some whack fan—that would be you—bitching and whining about her, DeLano, copying from the whack fan’s—yours—lame-ass excuse for a book.”

  “My book is groundbreaking!”

  And there’s a rise, Eve thought and nodded at Peabody.

  Peabody reached into the satchel at her feet, pulled out the manuscript, dropped it with a thud on the table.

  “Perfect cure for insomnia,” Peabody commented. “I was nodding off by page two.”

  That earned a dark look under stubby lashes from Smith.

  “You’re not wrong. Your book is bloated and self-indulgent,” Eve told Smith. “I can say that after suffering through the first chapter.”

  “You know nothing about literature. Neither of you.”

  “Literature? Is that what that waste of time and paper’s supposed to be?”

  “More like purple pap.” Peabody snickered with it.

  “Pap’s accurate. Just take the opening line. What was it? Yeah, yeah,” Eve murmured as she plucked up the first page. ‘With skill and grace, with focus and cunning, he tracked his victim like a sleek, predatory wolf to a plump, senseless lamb, but never showed the shine and keenness of his fangs.’ Seriously? If I didn’t get paid to do this, I’d have stopped right there. Bloated,” Eve said again. “And what’s the term—yeah, florid. DeLano writes lean and mean.”

  Smith, an angry—and, yeah, sallow—face surrounded by incongruously cheery curls rapped a fist on the table.

  “She took my work. My sweat and blood, and twisted it into something ordinary.”

  “Your work doesn’t approach the lowest level of ordinary. But let’s say, for argument’s sake, she did. You get pissed off about that and kill Rosie Kent, Chanel Rylan, Loxie Flash?”

  “Do you understand nothing?”

  “Enlighten me.”

  “Amanda Young killed Pryor Carridine. Justin Werth killed Amelia Benson. Gigi Hombly killed Bliss Cather.”

  “Yeah, yeah, I read the books. Those are fictional characters, Ann. Fictional characters don’t bleed.”

  “Of course they do.” Hazel eyes, edging toward brown—Jake had observation skills—bored into Eve’s. “You don’t understand, you’re incapable of understanding. You’re not a writer.”

  “Explain it to me,” Eve invited. “Explain to me how and why as Young, Werth, and Hombly you killed Carridine, Benson, and Cather.”

  Ann only shook her head, hunched up again.

  “Come on, Ann, don’t be shy. A writer has to face criticism
, right? Has to stand up to it. Defend your work!”

  Eve slapped her hands on the table. Ann Elizabeth Smith jumped, hunched tighter.

  “You want to be somebody? You claim to be a writer, a groundbreaking writer? Your work’s so superior, so fucking lofty? Prove it. Prove it to me, A. E. Strongbow. Defend your work.”

  Those eyes shifted up again, the fire in them brighter. “Art doesn’t need defending.”

  “Bullshit. A true artist stands by her art, stands for it, fights for it. You want attention? You’ve got mine. Here and now. Defend your work or go back to being nothing and nobody, sitting in the shadows, cutting and pinning and sewing for rich bitches. Bitches like Blaine DeLano.”

  “She’s the nothing! I’ve proven it already.”

  “How? By killing make-believe people?”

  “They’re flesh and blood. They must be flesh and blood. I made her cardboard characters flesh and blood. I transformed them and breathed life into them. A true writer must embody the characters she creates. Must live inside them. Occupy them. Think and speak and feel as they do.”

  “But you embodied and you killed DeLano’s characters.”

  “My characters! Mine. I made them mine, because I’m better. I showed her I’m better.”

  She tapped her fisted hands on the table like beating a drum. Passion flushed the thin, sallow face.

  “The villain is the key. The villain is the core. Anybody can write the expected, write the trite and tidy good overcomes evil. I showed her how much more creative, more real, more fascinating it is when evil triumphs. Why does Dark always win? Because DeLano has no real imagination, because she refuses to take creative risks. I showed her.”

  “You didn’t kill three people on the pages of a book. Three actual people are dead. People you selected only because they fit the fictional profile created by another writer.”

  “A hack,” Smith said dismissively. “I made them real.”

  “You made them dead.”

  “Art demands sacrifice.”

  The fire burned hot now so Eve saw the fanatic. Saw Strongbow. She saw the rage, and the horrible pride the mousy Ann Smith concealed.

 
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