Dark in death, p.6
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       Dark in Death, p.6
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         Part #46 of In Death series by J. D. Robb

  “Your TOD concurs with mine,” he added. “She was enjoying some lightly salted popcorn and Diet Coke when she died.”

  “I don’t get how anybody enjoys popcorn if it’s only lightly salted, but it takes all kinds. COD?”

  “I’d suspect the ice pick plunged into her brain stem.”

  “Ice pick.” Eve nodded.

  “You’re looking for one with a spike about three inches long, with a diameter of three millimeters. It has a wooden sheath, as I found microscopic traces of wood in the wound.”

  “That’s good, that’s helpful.”

  He ordered his work screen on. Eve watched a spine, and what she assumed was the brain stem attached, revolve in bright yellow and blue.

  “The spike entered between the first and second vertebrae, penetrated the brain stem, disrupting the central nervous system in a slightly upward angle. With that penetration, the brain ceased to transmit orders to breathe, to regulate body temperature and blood pressure, heart rate. That cessation would result in, most likely, a short seizure as the body—cut off from the brain—objected, you could say. Death followed quickly, a matter of seconds.”

  “How good would you have to be to make that shot, in that spot?”

  “A bit of practice.” Morris lifted his shoulders. “From reasonably close range on a sitting target, you wouldn’t need more than a rudimentary search to know where to aim, and your aim could be off a bit and produce the same results. If you’re thinking the killer needed medical training or expertise, I have to say no. May have had, certainly, but wouldn’t need it.”

  “Okay.” Hands in pockets, she wandered. “Okay. Ice picks are easy to come by. They use them in bars, commercial kitchens. She worked in a place that has a bar and a commercial kitchen.”

  “I thought she worked in the theater. That’s a cast recording playing now, from one of the plays she worked in.”

  “She did, and doubled as a waitress. Broadway Babies.”

  “Ah, a very entertaining place, if you’re in the mood for it.”

  “Home bars and kitchens, too,” Eve mused. “You can pick one up at a hardware or home store, no problem.”

  “I have one myself,” Morris told her. “I’ll send her tox off, but from what I’m seeing she lived clean. No signs of chemical abuse, addictions. No recent sexual activity. She never had a child and, though the blood work will confirm, I don’t see any signs of pregnancy.”

  “That fits with what I know about her. So ice pick, specific kill spot for fast, quiet work. I don’t think she’s going to give us much more.”

  “The dead only know what they know.”

  “Yeah. And this one? She never saw it coming.”

  With the rest of her morning’s agenda in place in her mental file, Eve pulled into Central. She’d juggle whatever she had to for the Mira consult, she thought as she wound her way up, shifting from elevator to glide, but she had a reasonably clear picture of the victim.

  Talented, friendly, happy, unencumbered sexually or romantically with no hard-edged breakups. Financially steady, as long as she kept the second job, which by all accounts she enjoyed anyway.

  Take away the method, Eve thought, and she’d have pegged Rylan as a random.

  She jumped off the glide on her level as Peabody popped out of a viciously crowded elevator.

  “Hey, good timing. Anything from Morris?”

  “Confirmation of on-scene conclusions. The vic lived a clean and healthy life, up until an ice pick severed her brain stem.”

  “Ice pick. They just look mean.”

  “I’d say Rylan agrees with you.”

  She swung into Homicide, stared for the three seconds she calculated she had before Jenkinson’s virulent blue tie with its hard-candy pink—were those elephants parading over it?—seared her corneas.

  Reineke, Jenkinson’s partner, had one foot propped on his desk as he worked his ’link. A tough-soled cop shoe clad the foot, and the positioning allowed a peek of the multicolored puppies—she thought they were puppies—frolicking against the screaming green background of his sock.

  They were solid cops, she thought, solid, sensible cops she’d go through any door with. And yet they insisted on assaulting the senses of all in their viewing area with their insane choices of accessories.

  She had to stop asking herself why.

  Instead, she turned and headed straight to her office, and the coffee in her AutoChef.

  “Maybe I could get one.” Unwinding the boa constrictor of her scarf—pink, blue, and white today—Peabody followed Eve in. “Because I scored you a consult with Mira. Nine-thirty.”

  Eve programmed a coffee regular in addition to her own preferred black.

  “We can follow that with interviews with the director and producer of the play Rylan was up for,” Peabody added. “They have the other callback—Jessilyn Brooke—scheduled for eleven.”

  “That’ll work.” Eve passed Peabody the coffee. “Contact Kawaski. I want a look at the apartment, and the victim’s room. We’ll slide that between Mira and the theater. And put in a visit to the vet. I want to talk to the one who took the bogus emergency.”

  “On it. You’ve probably got a report from McNab in your inbox. He went by the vet’s after he left the scene last night, as requested, since they’re open twenty-four. He took a look at the ’link transmission on that. He determined on site the tag came from a drop ’link, but since they cooperated, he brought the desk ’link in to triangulate location at the time of the tag.”

  “Good. I’ll get up to EDD if I can, check his progress on that.”

  Peabody went out; Eve settled in.

  Once she’d set up her board, updated her book, she did deeper runs on the victim’s coworkers, the roommate, and added one for the competitor—Jessilyn Brooke.

  Nothing and no one popped.

  She sat back, put her boots on the desk, studied the board.

  Point one: Whoever committed this murder was a planner. Detail-oriented, someone who knew how to schedule.

  Point two: The killer was someone willing to take risks to achieve the goal.

  Question: What was the goal beyond Rylan’s death? What was the purpose or gain?

  Point three: no sexual component. Ice pick penetrates, but the weapon, as she saw it, had been chosen for speed and silence, not to simulate sex.

  Question: How to resolve the personal nature of the planning, the target specificity, the intimate knowledge of the victim’s habits with the impersonal nature of the murder?

  She got up, walked to her narrow window.

  I see you, she thought. I watch you. Study you. I know what you like, where you go, who you sleep with, what you want.

  Was it just that? she wondered. Just the thrill of taking a life. Of plucking someone—at random—studying them like some bug under a scope. Then crushing them.

  That’s how it played for her. Rylan might not have known her killer. Maybe she’d have recognized the face. Someone she’d seen in the restaurant, at the vid palace, at the theater. But the connection, on her part, remained just that loose.

  On the killer’s? One-sided intimacy and knowledge. The thrill of that. The goal? Maybe nothing more than taking it from selection to study to planning to conclusion.

  If so, Rylan wouldn’t be the last, the only. In fact, she may not have been the first.

  She turned back to her desk, intending to bring up unsolved homicides from the past year that contained at least one of the elements of her case.

  And heard Peabody’s pink winter boots clomping toward the office.

  “Hey, Dallas, Nadine’s here.”

  “I don’t have anything for Nadine.” The on-air reporter and bestselling writer was a friend—and often useful on an investigation—but this one didn’t call for Nadine Furst and her crack skills.

  “It’s more like she’s got something for you.”

  Eve’s eyes narrowed because Peabody’s totally sparkled. “Am I going to smell double fudge brown
ie on your breath?”

  “No, and I’d be sad about that, except for what she did bring. She’s got Blaine DeLano with her!”

  “Okay.”

  Peabody’s sparkling eyes rolled in disbelief. “Blaine DeLano, Dallas. She’s a really famous novelist. The Hightower Chronicles, the Dark novels. She writes about cops. She writes really solid cop stories. I’ve been a fan for, like, a decade.”

  “So get her autograph if that blows up your skirt, and send them both on their way. I’m just a little busy with, you know, murder.”

  “That’s the thing. Jeez, I got so flustered.” As if it cured the flusters, Peabody patted a hand on her chest. “Ms. DeLano says she might have some information on the investigation.”

  “You didn’t think to mention that first?”

  “I got really flustered. I started seriously thinking about being a cop after I read Devil’s Due. But she says—and Nadine backs her up—she thinks she has relevant information.”

  Eve considered her office and the logistics of fitting four people inside the deliberately limited space—as she’d probably have to knock Peabody unconscious and drag her out to bar her from the interview.

  “Have them go to the lounge. I’ll be there in a minute.”

  “Um, I think it might be better if I tried to grab an interview or conference room. Santiago’s a big fan, too, and Trueheart. Lots of cops are. So you may want to limit the access to her.”

  Even as she spoke, Peabody pulled out her PPC, did a quick check. “Interview B’s open.”

  “Bag it, and I’ll be there in a minute.”

  She pulled up an incoming on her computer, noted that McNab worked fast. And had interesting data.

  Not only a drop phone, she read, but he’d narrowed the location of the transmission to the crime scene. Inside the theater, in the section where Rylan had been seated.

  And while he couldn’t confirm it as a timed auto-send, he could and had confirmed it as a recording.

  Since he’d attached it, Eve ran it.

  Street noises, traffic, horns.

  Oh God, oh God, Prince broke the leash, he ran out, into the street. Oh God, he got hit by a car. He’s bleeding. He’s hurt, he’s really hurt.

  Eve heard the vet assistant try to interrupt, to calm, to ask questions, but the voice just rolled over her, spiked with panic.

  I’m bringing him. I’m running. Please, Prince. Hold on.

  Eve listened to it a second time. The killer had done a good job projecting fear and panic in a high register that might have been female or might have been a male feigning hysteria. The video portion only showed a blur of lights, pedestrians, all in the jumpy, jumbled stream of someone running.

  “Damn good job,” she murmured. “More than enough to have the assistant on duty call the vet on the slate. You go out some night, push record, run and babble for a minute or so, and done. Last night, you wait for your moment, send it. Wait again until Kawaski leaves her seat. Do the deed, walk out.”

  She rose, and went to see what some cop writer thought she knew.

  Inside Interview B, Nadine Furst sat at the scarred table as camera ready as she would have been at the Chanel Seventy-Five anchor desk. Her streaky blond hair waved perfectly around her foxy face. A red top with a hint of lace played off her slim and severely cut gray suit.

  She lifted her brows over cat-green eyes.

  “Lieutenant Dallas, Blaine DeLano.”

  “Thanks so much for making the time.”

  The woman Eve judged as early forties rose, extended a hand.

  About five-five, by Eve’s gauge, a good, probably gym-fit build in narrow black pants, a casual black sweater. She wore her hair short, a sleek cap of brown with hints of red around a quietly attractive face. Eyes, deeply brown, met and held Eve’s.

  Her low-register voice held a smoothness along with the faint remnant of a Brooklyn upbringing.

  “Have a seat,” Eve told her. “Peabody?”

  “She went to grab us some water. No point being annoyed,” Nadine added, as she knew Eve well. “I think you’re going to want to hear what Blaine has to say.”

  “If you know what she has to say, why are you here?”

  “She came to me, I brought her to you. I’ve already agreed to be off the record because Blaine asked, so chill it down.”

  “I should have come directly to you,” DeLano said quickly, “but I wanted the opinion of someone I trust and respect. And, frankly, I wanted the conduit. I’m aware you also trust and respect Nadine.”

  “So far.”

  Eve glanced over when Peabody came in with tubes of water. She sat, waited while DeLano cracked a tube.

  “Okay, Ms. DeLano, what do you want to say?”

  “I want to say—need to say—I think I might be responsible for Chanel Rylan’s murder.”

  5

  The woman seemed steady and sane enough, Eve thought, though distress eked through.

  “If you’re going to confess to murder, I should read you your rights.”

  “Don’t be such a bitch,” Nadine snapped.

  “I have to be true to myself.”

  DeLano let out a breathless half laugh. “I appreciate the mild kick in the ass. When I killed her in Dark Days, her name was Amelia Benson.”

  “You’re talking about a book? About a fictional character.”

  “Yes. Amelia Benson was a young actress who held a series of jobs, as her acting income didn’t pay the rent. She had ambitions, some talent, and considerable energy. Every week she went to a classic vid, to study, as she hoped, one day, to be a star of stage and screen.

  “One rainy Wednesday, in a nearly empty theater while she watched Grace Kelly thwart an attempt on her life, Amelia’s ended. An ice pick through the base of the skull.”

  It rang, Eve realized, loud and clear. “Why an ice pick?” Eve asked.

  “Such a mean and common tool. And effective, I thought. Sharp.” DeLano spread her hands. “Small. Easy to come by. They found her body when they brought the houselights up after the credits. The killer, of course, had long since left the building.”

  “Okay. And you believe this applies to Chanel Rylan’s murder.”

  “I do. I’m sick because I do. The bulletin I heard this morning said an actress, a young actress, and the vid—a classic Hitchcock vid like the one my fictional victim watched. Dial M for Murder in my book, same director. And that she’d been stabbed during the vid—the shower scene, a compelling scene like the one I used for my book. The bulletin didn’t identify the weapon.”

  “So you wrote a book with a murder victim, an actress who’s killed during a vid by stabbing, and you figure it’s connected to an actual case.”

  “I do. I do, and, worse … I think it’s the second one.” Now DeLano gripped her hands together on the table, knuckles whitening. “I think it’s the second.”

  “Why?”

  When DeLano brought her joined hands up to press between her breasts, Nadine started to speak.

  “Let her tell it.”

  Nadine hissed out a breath, but didn’t speak.

  “This was easier in my head.”

  “Drink some water, Ms. DeLano,” Peabody advised. “Take a breath.”

  “Okay. Yes.” She obeyed, cleared her throat. “I think I’d have been struck by the similar elements. A young actress stabbed while watching a Hitchcock vid. If subsequent reports had termed the weapon an ice pick, I’d have been more than struck. I was only somewhat intrigued by what I now think was the first. About a month ago, a young street-level LC, only a few weeks into the job, was strangled in a flop many use for their work. Her body showed no sign of recent sexual activity, no other injuries. The killer used a white scarf.”

  She paused, drank more water.

  “In my book Dark Falls, a young street-level LC, only a few weeks into the job, was strangled in a flop many use for their work. Her body showed no signs of recent sexual activity, and wouldn’t, as this was her first client of
the night. No other injuries. A sedative mixed with wine—a cheap Chianti—was discovered in her system during the autopsy. The killer used a white scarf, left in place and tied into a bow at the side of her neck.”

  DeLano cleared her throat again. “At the time, as I said, I was mildly intrigued. The young licensed companion, no sex, the white scarf. But it’s a dangerous line of work, especially at that level. If you tell me the case is closed, that there was no bow, no sedative found, if you tell me Chanel Rylan was killed with a steak knife, I’ll mark this all up to coincidence and paranoia. I’d like to be able to do just that, more than I can tell you.”

  Eve leaned back in the chair. “You write cop books?”

  “Police thrillers, yes.”

  “Maybe you know what cops say about coincidence.”

  Deliberately DeLano picked up her water, drank. “There aren’t any. God.”

  “Peabody, get the file on the LC. Jenkinson and Reineke caught it, but I don’t remember all the details.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  DeLano closed her eyes as Peabody left the room. “It was an ice pick, there was a bow. You don’t have to tell me for me to know it. I don’t know what to do, what to think.”

  “How long ago did you write the LC one?”

  “Dark Falls, the first book of the spin-off Dark series. Deann Dark, former police detective—still one in that book—who turns in her badge at the end of the book and turns to private investigation. Eight years ago. That was a spring release as part of the Hightower series. They were partners. The second, Dark Days, with the ice pick, came out that fall. I’ve done eleven Hightowers and eight Darks. Eight, and now two … I feel sick.”

  “This isn’t your fault or your responsibility.” Nadine turned to Eve. “She could use hearing that from you.”

  “I don’t know either way yet. Has anyone contacted you suggesting turning your fiction into reality?”

  “No, no, nothing like that. I’ve had readers who want to give me plotlines or ideas, and murder techniques might come into it. I’ve had readers upset or disappointed—even angry—that a romantic relationship hasn’t developed between Deann and Hightower. I don’t know why anyone would do this, or pick my books specifically.”

 
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