Dark in death, p.7
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       Dark in Death, p.7
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         Part #46 of In Death series by J. D. Robb

  “Anybody too obsessed or pissed?”

  “Nothing raises a flag. These characters—Hightower and Dark—have been around for eleven years. They’ve gone through changes, growth, personal tragedies and triumphs. Not all readers want the changes, others want more. You can’t let that influence the story or the characters.”

  Watching DeLano, Eve shifted angles. “How about personally obsessed or pissed? With you, not the characters or the books.”

  DeLano swept her hands up over her face, into her hair. “I lead a quiet life, Lieutenant Dallas. A deliberately quiet and simple life. I have two teenage girls, and raising my girls, building my career takes about all I’ve got. I don’t even date. I tried it a couple times, at Heather’s and Piper’s urging. My girls,” she explained. “But I’m just not at a place in my life where I have the interest or the energy. I have friends, mostly other mothers or, like Nadine, someone in the business. I have my family, my mother, my girls. And I have my work. I stay home more than I go out.”

  “You’re not married to or cohabbing with the father of your daughters? Or one of the fathers.”

  “Just one, and no, I’m divorced.”

  “How long?”

  “Twelve years.”

  “But you have contact?”

  “Not really, no. Craig rarely sees the girls. He’s not that interested. He’s remarried, and has a son, which is what he wanted.”

  “Acrimonious divorce?”

  DeLano offered a thin smile. “Is there any other kind?”

  “There wouldn’t be in my world, but some people claim it.”

  “I don’t. But if you think, after all these years, Craig would kill two women to make me suffer, I’d have to say that stretches credulity.”

  “Was he or is he ever violent?”

  “Once.” More nerves showed as DeLano shifted in the chair, linked her hands together, pulled them apart. “Do you really need this information?” She asked as Peabody came back in with a file.

  “I don’t know what I need until I know.”

  “Briefly then, I married Craig when I was twenty-four, and had my two girls before I was thirty. I was a teacher, and had been working on my doctorate, but when we married I gave that up, as Craig wanted me to stay at home, keep the home, and tend to the children.”

  “He wanted?” Eve repeated.

  “Yes. And while I was content being a professional mother, I did begin to feel the squeeze with the limitations of my social activities, my outlets. I accepted that Craig was a very old-fashioned, traditional man, and he provided for us. I accepted that he wanted a son and didn’t interact as much as I expected or would have liked with the girls. I accepted that he wanted things done a certain way, and his response when I didn’t reach that level was subtle insults, coldness. I accepted. You may not understand—”

  “Just because I haven’t been there doesn’t mean I can’t understand.”

  “All right.” Again DeLano linked her hands together, but this time it seemed like a reset rather than nerves.

  “I had a lovely home, was expected to make myself and that home attractive, to be a charming hostess, to be a fully involved mother. I enjoyed all that, but I wanted something for myself. I started to write. I’d always had an interest, and I had the time when the girls napped or on the rare occasions I was allowed—though I didn’t see it then as being allowed—to let my mother take them for an afternoon. I told no one. It was just for me, and over the course of a year, I’d written a book.”

  She smiled now, quick and easy. “It thrilled me, thrilled me enough I took a chance and contacted a college friend who worked in publishing. She agreed to read it, and she liked it.”

  Now DeLano let out a sigh. “What a moment that was. She had a few editorial suggestions, and I worked on those in secret. And when I had, when she read it again, she bought the manuscript. It was, and is, one of the biggest moments of my life.”

  DeLano glanced at Nadine. “You understand.”

  “I do, absolutely.”

  “I contacted my mother,” DeLano continued. “I didn’t tell her, but asked if she’d like to have the girls, an overnight. Of course she did, so I arranged that. I spent the day shopping for candles, flowers, what I needed at the market to prepare Craig’s favorite meal. I did all this with such excitement, such joy. I was a writer. I’d written a book. It would be published. People would read it.

  “When Craig came home, I had the scene set. An elegant, intimate dinner for two. I had champagne. He questioned why I’d let my mother take the girls—without clearing it with him—but I told him I wanted a special evening for the two of us.”

  She looked down at her linked hands. “He thought I was pregnant. He didn’t know, as I also kept that to myself, that I was on birth control because I wasn’t ready to have another child so quickly. I wanted another year first so, rather than argue, I’d lied. I’m not proud of that.”

  “Your body,” Eve pointed out. “Your choice.”

  “Yes, but he wouldn’t have agreed, so I took the coward’s way. In any case, I told him no, not yet, but I had, in a way, given birth.

  “That night, I poured the champagne, and I told him about the book, how I’d written it in my free time over the last year or so, how much fun it had been for me, how satisfying. And best of all I’d sold it. He listened to all this, and I should’ve known, I should’ve seen it, but I was so happy, so inside my own excitement, I didn’t see what was coming. Free time? he asked me. Wasn’t that interesting? I had so much free time. I had free time because he did all the work, and I’d used what he’d given me to lie and deceive, to hide my ingratitude.”

  She took a long breath. “I tried to defend myself, to tell him I hadn’t neglected anything. Him, the girls, the house. But … He took my plate, dumped the food on the floor—to remind me I only had food and shelter because he provided them. When I objected, he hit me. When I objected to that, he hit me again, and again. He ordered me to destroy the manuscript, tell this friend he suspected I’d had sex with I’d made a mistake. He ordered me to clean up the mess I’d made, then come upstairs and do what his wife was obligated to do.”

  Eve gave it a moment while DeLano visibly composed herself. “And did you?”

  “A stronger woman would have told him to go to hell, but, yes, I cleaned up the mess, put the kitchen to rights. I locked myself in the powder room long enough to take a picture of my face, the bruises, the blackening eye. Then I went upstairs. It was rape, but I didn’t fight. I didn’t protest. In fact, I pretended to enjoy it. In the morning, I fixed his breakfast, apologized again when he demanded it. When he left for work, when I was sure it was safe, I packed what I needed, I packed what the girls needed, and I left. I went to my mother’s. She called a friend, a lawyer. I arranged for a neighbor of my mother’s to keep the girls while the three of us went to the police and filed charges. I also filed for divorce.”

  “What did he do?” Eve asked.

  “He objected. He claimed I’d committed adultery, had been an abusive wife and mother. But he couldn’t prove any of it, as it simply wasn’t true. He threatened, and he made the next several months very hard. But I knew he didn’t want the girls, and I would not, I would not have them live under a man like Craig. I went to therapy, I wrote another book—and lived with the girls, with my mother.”

  “What about the assault? Did he get dinged for it?”

  “His lawyer suggested that the divorce would go smoother if I withdrew the charges. I wouldn’t. I’d had smooth, accepted smooth, and it made me a doormat. What would being a doormat, what would allowing myself to be physically attacked teach my daughters? He eventually pled it down, did community service, had to agree to rehab for domestic abuse, and two years’ probation.”

  “A ding. Not enough of one, but a ding.”

  “He remains bitter, and I think sincerely believes he was wronged, that he was an ideal husband to me. But he never laid a hand on me again. As I said, he remarried, h
e has the son he wanted, and—from what I can glean—a biddable wife.”

  “Maybe tuning her up is part of the biddable.”

  DeLano shut her eyes again. “I don’t know. I hope not, but I don’t know.”

  “He resents your work—I bet part of the bitter is lodged in your success with that work.”

  “Yes. And I’ll admit to feeling some ugly little satisfaction from that.”

  “Using your work to kill could be some serious payback.”

  “I can’t see it. Believe me, that’s not defending him. He’s a small man, Lieutenant. And a man who prides himself on image and status. If he wanted payback, if he needed it, he’d try to smear my reputation. But to do that would smear his own. So he leaves me and mine alone, and I do the same for him.”

  “Okay.” Eve let it drop, fully intending to see for herself.

  She opened the file, studied the crime scene photos of the street LC, the white scarf with the perfectly tied side bow around her neck.

  “Who killed the LC in the book, and why?”

  “I had a female killer, a fairly traditional wife and mother, I later realized I based in part on myself. She had a psychotic break when she realized her husband used LCs—very young LCs—and murdered three before they caught her. The white scarf and bow symbolized the sash and bow from her wedding gown.”

  “A female serial. Any connection to the killer and motive from the second book?”

  “None, except the characters of Dark and Hightower, and some of the other cast I developed in the first series. In that second case, the killer was male, paid to kill the actress by the lover of an actress up for the same part.”

  “A pro?”

  “No. A failing screenwriter trying to get backing for his script. A friend of the lover was a producer. The agreement is: Kill this woman and I’ll produce your script. The killer had no connection to the victim. They’d never met. The screenwriter and the producer have a falling out when the producer goes low budget and the screenwriter wants more. The producer kills the screenwriter.”

  “How?”

  “God, do you think … He sets it up to look like a suicide. Gets the screenwriter drunk—while agreeing to the high budget treatment. When he’s drunk enough, the producer hangs him, types a suicide note on the computer. It’s bungled, and Dark is already looking at the producer. More, the screenwriter left the outline of a new script on the same computer. One that mirrors the deal made, the killing done.”

  “The third book. The main murder if there’s more than one.”

  “I’m going to need stronger than water before this is over. Poisoning, in an edgy, popular club, a crowded dance club. Cyanide added to a pomtini.”

  “A what?”

  “A martini flavored with pomegranate. They’re popular. The victim is a minor celebrity. She was the girlfriend of a trash rock musician—that’s what launched her celebrity. Bad girl, wild child, lives on the edge, and often over it. She uses people as freely and carelessly as she uses illegals.”

  “Nice. Okay, we’re going to want to see your reader communications. Start with the last year.”

  “All right. I’ll have my mother put it together. She handles that end of things, and the social media.”

  “You say you don’t date. Is there anyone you’ve brushed off in the last year or so?”

  “I don’t really put myself in that situation.” With a half smile, DeLano lifted her shoulders. “I’m a forty-three-year-old single mother and introvert.”

  “You look good, you’ve got a brain, notoriety, and you’ve got money.”

  DeLano opened her mouth, closed it, considered. “Well, yes.”

  “Think about it. You may want to talk to your mother about this, since it would give her more of a sense of what to look for, or it might spark a memory of a communication that applies. Otherwise, don’t talk about this.”

  “I need to tell my girls.”

  “Teenage girls tend to blab to other teenage girls.”

  “Not if I put it under the dome. The Family Only Dome. It’s a sacred trust in our house. My mother’s the same, Lieutenant. If it’s put under the dome, it stays under the dome.”

  “You can consider all this under the dome,” Eve said to Nadine.

  “Understood and agreed in advance. It’ll break eventually, Blaine. You should work on a statement, have it ready when it blows.”

  “Right, yes. You’re right. If you need me for anything, Lieutenant, anything, I’ll be available. I’ll get out of your way.” She rose. “Thanks, Nadine, for coming in with me.”

  “If you need anything, tag me,” Nadine replied.

  “I will, and I’m not going to be shy about it. I love my work. The good guys win. Terrible things happen, ugly things, but the good guys win. I’m going to count on that.”

  “I’m going to show you out, Ms. DeLano.”

  When Peabody took DeLano out, Eve stayed where she was.

  “How well do you know her?” she asked Nadine.

  “I’d call us casual friends. She’s been on Now a few times, gives a good interview. She’s not bullshitting about not socializing much. I did meet her kids and her mother—they all came to the studio once. Tight unit. What was your impression of her?”

  “Smart and steady.”

  “That would be correct. The kids strike me as the same, and I’d say the smart and steady comes down from Blaine’s mother. They’ll hold it together.”

  “What do you know about the ex-husband?”

  “More now than I did. I poked around a bit preinterview, but she’s kept a lid on it. And casual friends don’t push that line much in a non-professional arena. My impression there was controlling jerk, but the smacking around? She’s kept that under wraps.”

  “But you knew about it.”

  Nadine’s lips curved. “It might be that in the act of poking I unearthed some documentation buried under layers of time, privacy, and discretion.”

  “You didn’t hit her with it during the interviews?”

  “What would be the point?” Nadine jerked a shoulder. “She could’ve ridden that train herself, probably sold more books on that track, but she didn’t—likely to shield her kids. I slap it out on-air, I get that momentary reaction, some buzz after, and I humiliate a couple of kids, and a woman who rebuilt her life. What’s the point?”

  “The point is you’ll dig, but you understand and respect the line between petty gossip for ratings and real juice. It’s why she tagged you,” Eve said. “It’s why I’m telling you I have no doubt we’ll be investigating a cyanide poisoning at a dance club in fairly short order if we don’t get lucky first.”

  “Why not a bogus hanging suicide? That’s the next murder in the series.”

  “The second murder in the second book? First, the killer’s likely done with the second book. And it was bungled. This killer isn’t looking to replicate a bungle.”

  “But they all get caught in the end,” Nadine argued. “It’s just as she said. The good guys win.”

  “Not in the book the killer’s writing. Now beat it.”

  “It was great seeing you, too,” Nadine said dryly as she rose. “Since we’re on books, I’ve got The Red Horse Chronicles about ready to submit. I want you to see it first. And there’s no point in giving me a pained look—the book’s happening. I’d like you to read the manuscript before I send it off. Just like The Icove Agenda, it was your case.”

  “Yeah, yeah.”

  “Your enthusiasm and support sings in my writer’s soul. Meanwhile, since I’m getting an early start, I think I’ll visit a couple journalism departments, start dealing with getting myself an intern.”

  “I’ve got a candidate for that.”

  “So you mentioned before,” Nadine remembered. “Where does he or she go to school?”

  “She. I’d call it The School of Hard Knocks. She’s smart, annoying, relentless—relentless and sly. She’s like you, basically.”

  “How old is she?”
>
  “I don’t know. About fifteen.”

  “I’m looking for a college student.”

  Eve just shrugged. “It’s your deal. If you decide to take a look at her, it’s Quilla Magnum. She’s at Harbor House now, but she’ll be transitioning to Roarke’s An Didean when it’s ready in the spring.”

  “She’s in a shelter? I’m not looking to take on a troubled youth. I’m after an intern, someone I can mentor.”

  “Your deal,” Eve said easily. She gathered up the file, got to her feet.

  “Did she know any of the dead girls you found in the building Roarke’s rehabbing?”

  “Ask her. I’ve got a fresh dead girl to deal with.” Opening the door, Eve jerked her thumb in a get-out gesture.

  Nadine narrowed those feline eyes. “You threw that at me on purpose, but I’m not taking on a teenager.”

  “Whatever.”

  Satisfied, Eve turned toward Homicide, and went straight to Jenkinson’s desk. She curled a come-ahead finger at Reineke.

  “What’s shaking, boss?” Jenkinson shifted in his seat. “You’ve got something fresh on the Kent case?”

  “Might. I’ve got the file, and I’ve got a consult coming up, but run it through.”

  “Reineke took primary.”

  “Yep,” Reineke agreed. “Eighteen-year-old Caucasian female. Rosie Kent. Kid had barely started in the life. Her family didn’t like it—parents divorced, both remarried, had a civil but distant deal going. Kent had one full sib—older sister—two younger half sibs, one from each parent. Older sib, high achiever, going to Florida State on scholarship.”

  “Vic’s a little bit of a screwup,” Jenkinson continued. “Got through high school, flunked out of community college the first semester. Started the LC training. She figured it was an easy way to make money, and kind of a middle finger to her family.”

  “They couldn’t stop her,” Reineke put in, “so decided to wait it out, figuring she’d get tired of trolling the streets to make a score, get tired of being pawed for a fee, and dealing with all the restrictions, the regular testing, and all that.”

 
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