Dark in death, p.4
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       Dark in Death, p.4
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         Part #46 of In Death series by J. D. Robb

  “How long before the showing are the layout of vids announced?”

  Sitting back for a moment, she picked up her wine, lifted the glass toward him. “That’s a good question, Mister Civilian. Three months. They set the classic vids up three months ahead, advertise them in-theater and online. And before you ask, the victim and her friend had a routine, and going to that vid, on that night fell right into it. Plus both of them blasted it on their social media feeds. ‘Going to Psycho with my bestie.’ ‘Girls’ night at the Bates Motel.’ I’ll never understand why people do that stupid shit, but they do.”

  Eve paused, ate a little more. “She’s coming across as a decent human being, one who enjoyed her life, her work, had a nice circle of casual friends—and that bestie. He ended that, and so far, while the method says she was a target, nothing’s popping to show why.”

  “What can I do to help?”

  “I’m not sure there’s much at this stage with this one.”

  “Throw me a bone.”

  She sat back with her wine again, studied him as she sipped. “You could just go back to your book.”

  “Or?”

  On a half laugh she sipped again. “Okay, or. You could run the background on the ex, check any travel over the last couple days. Eliminate him or nudge him onto the list. Damien Forsythe, currently living and working in the Calgary area of Canada. He’s a regular on some series. The Enduring.”

  “That’s simple enough. What’s on your agenda?”

  “A deeper look into the vic. So far she’s not telling me much. Some basic checking on her friend, the pet clinic and staff, a few runs on staff at the restaurant, and the play, the other contenders, she was auditioning for.”

  “That’s quite a bit.”

  “Mostly just routine.”

  “Well then, I’ll see to my assignment.” Rising, he looked back at the board. “Sometimes there’s just no logical reason.”

  “But there’s always a reason.”

  3

  With a pot of black coffee, Eve settled into the work. Routine, yes, and some of it tedious. But routine mattered, demanded structure and direction, and tedium could lead to rewards.

  Not so much this time, she thought as she worked her way through the life of Chanel Rylan.

  Nothing stood out, nothing rang a bell. Other than a handful of traffic violations, including a minor accident, no injuries, prior to moving to New York, she had no bumps.

  Slightly above average student—with stellar marks in drama, theater, dance, music. Starring roles in school plays, some community theater.

  No medical issues that showed up on a standard run. No pregnancies, no rehab.

  Financially, Eve mused, she’d done okay, and obviously wasn’t in it for the dough. Her outlay for clothes, rent, the voice, acting, and dancing lessons she continued ate up most of her income.

  Eve shifted to Lola Kawaski.

  Lola had two bumps—two arrests for protesting for animal rights. Currently, and for the past three years, she’d worked as one of the three rotating vets at Pet Care. Previously, she’d studied for her license and worked as a veterinary assistant at Pet Care.

  So that showed either loyalty or an appreciation for routine.

  Eve finished it out—financially the vet did better than the actress/waitress, but the vet sure wasn’t rolling in it—as Roarke came in.

  He poured himself a mug of Eve’s coffee. “I sent the details on the ex to your file.”

  “Give me a roundup.”

  “His only bump—from your standpoint—along the way was a charge of drunk and disorderly. This after a bachelor party. He’s had a couple of high-profile romances since moving to Calgary—and also keeps a residence in New L.A. The romances might be quite sincere or the result of a publicity campaign. His star seems to be rising. He gets good reviews, gives clever interviews, and appears to have the respect of his current cast and crew.”

  Roarke eased a hip onto a leg of her command center. “Not only hasn’t he traveled out of Canada in the last week or so, he was, at the time of your murder, in front of cameras, shooting a scene.”

  “You didn’t get that from a run.”

  “I didn’t, no. I got that when I noticed I’m acquainted with one of the producers on the series.”

  “Aren’t you acquainted with everybody?”

  “At times it seems as though. In any case,” he continued, “I tagged him up, chatted a bit. And was able to wind it around to how things were going on the set and so on.”

  Eve nodded approval. “Better that way than direct. The ex is going to hear about it before much longer, but better to ease the info out without adding murder to it.”

  “So I thought. When I asked, he mentioned they’d just wrapped a key scene only an hour before, one they’d worked on most of the day. I was treated to nearly a bloody play-by-play of the shoot, the setup, the technical challenges, and so on. And to the characters therein. Damien Forsythe’s character played an integral part in it.”

  “He didn’t make sense anyway. We’ll cross him off. Thanks.”

  With a shake of his head, Roarke drank more coffee. “You owe me thanks, as the man blathered on for twenty minutes.”

  Eve shot a finger at him. “You asked for it.”

  “I did. I can’t deny it. I’ll be a glutton for punishment and say give me someone else to run.”

  Eve glanced down at her notes. “Annalisa Bacardo.”

  On a frown, Roarke lowered his mug. “That name seems familiar.”

  “You’re probably acquainted. She owns the restaurant where the vic worked. The singing waiter place.”

  “Hmm, something. I can’t quite snag it up.” He rose, walked around to sit at her auxiliary unit. Seconds later, he leaned back. “Yes, of course.”

  Eve picked up her coffee, smirked. “She’s a little old for you, ace.”

  “Age means nothing to the heart.”

  “Or the dick.”

  “I’d be insulted for my dick if that weren’t completely true. However, in this case, I’ve never met the woman, much less had any part of my anatomy involved with her. I have heard of her.”

  He swiveled his chair toward Eve, sat back a bit. “About thirty years ago, Annalisa Bacardo lit up Broadway. A genuine diva, multiple Tony Awards. Her name alone could make or break a play. Musicals were her forte, and she translated that talent to the screen a time or two, to exceptional reviews.”

  “How come she’s not still lighting things up instead of running a restaurant?”

  “She was involved personally and professionally with Justin Jackson, another towering talent. They didn’t always perform together, but when they did? Magic.” Roarke flicked his fingers in the air. “You can read about it if you like.”

  “Just keep going.”

  “They didn’t marry, but lived together, had a child together. A daughter,” he said, glancing at the screen to corroborate his memory. “When the child was about three, and Annalisa was in rehearsals for a new production, Justin walked the girl to the park. On the way, a car jumped the curb, struck both of them. Killed both of them.”

  “Ah, Jesus.”

  “She hasn’t performed since, that I know of. I didn’t realize she owned Broadway Babies.” Curious, he did another search. “She owns it under the name Lost Angels.”

  “She said the staff were her children,” Eve remembered, “her family, and I guess they are. I’ve confirmed she was in the restaurant at the time of the murder, but this gives me a better sense of her.”

  Sitting back, Eve scanned the screen, picked up her coffee. Then with a hiss, swiveled to face Roarke. “I’m getting nothing from any connections, from anybody who’d be connected to a connection. Target specific.”

  Eve pushed up and away to pace, to think on her feet. “All current evidence points there, and target specific generally equals personal. But it doesn’t feel personal. Not in method, not in background of vic. So, potentially, the victim represents a type, or
was a surrogate. Mira territory.”

  She paused by the board. “I need to talk to her. The vid. Was that just luck of the draw, or also specific? The research into the victim could have started back when the schedule of vids was announced. The vid becomes the trigger, but then, if so, how does the killer latch onto Rylan in the first place?”

  Roarke waited a beat to determine if she had asked the question to herself or to him. Decided it was both. “I imagine there’s a subscription service.”

  “A what?”

  “Like a season buy—so many tickets purchased in advance—and a sign-up for tickets to ones slated to show.”

  “Like season tickets for baseball. Shit.” She double-timed it back to her comp to run a search. Roarke beat her to it.

  “Rylan belonged to the theater’s Golden Ticket rewards program.”

  “Show-off.”

  “We do what we do. Buy a package of twenty-five tickets per year, get one free, an automatic ten percent discount at concessions, a monthly newsletter, an assortment of benefits,” Roarke added.

  “They probably split it, Rylan and Kawaski. I can verify that, but that’s what they did. So, the killer maybe buys the same package—I’m going to want to see the subscription list. Sees her there often enough to focus in on her. Maybe he makes a pass she deflects. But …” Tapping her fist on the workstation, she shook her head. “It wasn’t sexual. The killing wasn’t sexual so that doesn’t hold for me. The on-screen killing, that’s sexual. Killer spies on victim through peephole, enters when vic’s naked and vulnerable in the shower. Knife penetrates. A lot.”

  “The on-screen murder provides the sexual component?”

  “I don’t know. I don’t think so, but I’ll talk with Mira. To me, this was quick, nasty business. In the dark. The vic’s facing away, not toward. She’s fully dressed. The killer penetrates, yeah, but it’s one jab. On-screen it’s …”

  Eve made a decent mimic of the shower scene’s repeated shriek while she mimed jabbing repeatedly with a knife.

  “Murder usually makes sense,” she continued, “even if it turns out to be crazy, shit-house-rat sense. So far I’ve got a victim with no known enemies or bitter, even mildly annoyed exes, no big potful of money or influence, no apparent knowledge of some dastardly deed or connection thereto. No sexual component. But at the same time, the killer knew her or took the time, made the effort to learn her routine and habits, as well as the routine and habits of her roommate.

  “She stands for something, someone,” Eve finished. “It’s all that makes crazy, shit-house-rat sense.”

  “Then it seems to me you’ve shaken out quite a bit in a few hours.”

  “Maybe. Or maybe I’m off base and the killer jerked off while anticipating the shower scene and the murder, then shot his wad of sexual component in his boxers when he jabbed the sharp into the base of Rylan’s skull.”

  “That’s a visual I’d just as soon not have playing in my head.”

  “Or”—Eve rose, circled the board again—“she’s up for a part. She’s beaten out others for parts before.”

  “And lost out to others, I assume.”

  “Yeah, but we’ll stick with beating out. It’s a circle, a community—though some likely come in, others likely give up—but you’d get to know each other. If you’re up for the same part, odds are you’ve been up against each other before. Her coworkers at the restaurant didn’t ring for me, at all, but they’ve been up for the same part over the years. Maybe someone had enough, or someone went desperate. Have to have this one or I’m finished. Have to have it or I can’t pay the rent, whatever. Have to have it. Not so much time or effort needed to learn the victim’s routine and habits, to get information on the roommate. You’re in the same club already.”

  “Wouldn’t it make more sense to wait and see who got the part?”

  Eyes on the board, on Chanel Rylan, Eve fisted her hands on her hips. “Desperate makes for crazy, shit-house-rat sense.”

  “It’s impossible to disagree.”

  “So I talk to her agent. I talk to whoever’s in charge of the auditions. And we see where there’s overlap. It wasn’t sex, a twisted version of love; it wasn’t rage; it wasn’t for financial gain, revenge, or, as far as it shows, to preserve a secret. It sure as hell wasn’t random. That leaves jealousy as the most likely motive.”

  “What part was she up for?” Roarke wondered.

  “Some new play. Second lead. Not even the headliner.”

  Roarke rose, drew her in against him. “You’ll just keep circling the board and the same thought pattern. You can’t talk to anyone else until tomorrow, dig into it until. Let’s shut it down for the night.”

  “Everyone I talked to who knew her liked her. But they’re actors, so they all know how to put on a show.”

  He tapped a finger to the dent in her chin. “You’re a cop, and you excel at seeing through a show.”

  “Yeah, and what I saw came off as real. People liked her. Still, somebody killed her—specifically—and more, did it in a way that involved unnecessary risks. Something’s missing.”

  “If there is, you’ll find it. But not tonight.”

  “No, not tonight.” She drew back to shut down, and abruptly remembered. “We’re Summerset-free.”

  “And, since I’m sure you’re interested, he’s very much enjoying his winter break.”

  “Yeah, great. We have to have sex.”

  “Well now, if you insist.”

  When he reached for her, she gave him a light shove back. “Not so fast, pal. I’ve got logistics to consider.”

  “It’s all right. I remember how it’s done very well, and can walk you through it.”

  “We’ll see who walks who where. I’ve got it. Count to thirty.”

  He let out a laugh. “Seriously?”

  “You want sex or not?”

  Arching his eyebrows, his gaze locked on hers, he said, “One.”

  She gave him a hot, noisy kiss, then jogged out of the room.

  He counted it off as he shut down her machine, the fireplace, the lights, strolled into his own office to do the same.

  When he hit thirty, he stepped into the hall, spotted one of her boots.

  “Ha.” He walked to it, picked it up, continued in that direction. He found the second boot after a turn to the right.

  Amused, he picked that up as well. “So she’s after a game.”

  He’d play. He could, of course, simply ask the house system where she was, or call up the monitors and see for himself.

  But that would be cheating.

  He followed the trail, found her jacket on a doorknob. Though he recognized a ploy, he also understood the double bluff, so opened the door, ordered the lights.

  No, they wouldn’t be making good use of the big gel bed in that particular guest room.

  He put her jacket and the boots on a bench in the hall, continued on.

  When he’d worked with architects and engineers on the design of the house, when he’d watched it built layer by layer, he hadn’t imagined himself wandering through it some night, following the trail of his wife’s stripped-off clothing.

  And there a sock.

  He paused to study a painting he’d stolen, oh, six or seven years before. A lonely hooded figure crossing a windswept moor under brooding skies. He’d taken it for his own collection, as it had pulled at him, that resolve, the loneliness, while his primary target of a small, exquisite Corot he’d sold for a very tidy fee.

  Then he’d met his cop, his mate, the love of his life, and he’d arranged for the painting of the lonely figure to be “found” and returned to its owner.

  Then he’d bought it, legitimately.

  He’d done the same with the other bits and bites he’d still had inside the plump pies baked on the shady side of the line. Divested of them, given up those dark little thrills.

  A small price to pay, he thought as he moved on, found the second sock, for the woman now leading him through the maze of
his own home.

  She never failed to fascinate, frustrate, and fulfill.

  Doubling back, was she, he mused, spotting some loose credits she’d likely pulled out of her pocket. And he spotted a door open an inch or so, to lure him.

  Sliding the credits into his own pocket, he moved on, as he knew the room to be linen storage for that section of the house.

  Then doubled back himself, as he wouldn’t put it past her to decide they’d have sex in a bloody linen closet.

  Apparently not, he thought, when all he found inside were linens.

  The game took on fresh interest when he found her trousers tossed over the banister of a stairway leading up to the next floor.

  Intrigued, he started up, mentally going over the floor plan.

  Ballroom level. Sitting rooms, baths, a staging area for catering, storage, a small, efficient kitchen and butler’s pantry—again for catering—another separate area for any staff hired for a party to break or gather, another storage area, a game room.

  The ballroom, of course.

  He found her shirt hanging over the door of one of the sitting rooms, considered, and decided that after the hunt, a sitting room ranked very low on the scale.

  Then turned the other way.

  He found her pocket debris—the lockpicks he’d given her, her pocketknife, her communicator, her ’link, even her badge—all together on the hunt table outside the wide doorway, and stepped inside the ballroom.

  She sat in the shadowy light, perched on the arm of one of the sofas.

  “I wasn’t wearing enough to cover the house,” she said. “Next time I’ll have to gear up.”

  “You managed to cover considerable ground, nonetheless. Lights on, ten percent.”

  The grand chandeliers overhead flickered on, soft, quiet light.

  She wore her white support tank, her simple white panties. And her weapon harness. Long, long legs, tousled hair, a smug, smug smile. Was it a wonder he went hard as rock instantly?

 
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