Dark in death, p.8
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       Dark in Death, p.8

         Part #46 of In Death series by J. D. Robb
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  “She didn’t have a chance to get tired of it.” With a head shake, Jenkinson’s chair squeaked when he leaned back. “She was just a couple months in when she bought it.”

  “Nobody saw the john. It’s frigging cold, right?” Reineke eased a hip onto his partner’s desk. “It’s dark. She hasn’t been around long enough to make friends with the other LCs, and it comes out she’s standoffish anyhow. Acts superior, so nobody hangs with her. The way it plays is she comes out of the SRO where she’s living and gets picked up straight off. That’s how the timing played. She used one of those flops where the LCs check themselves in if the desk guy isn’t on duty, which he ain’t most of the time. It’s like a time clock, and it auto-charges by the quarter hour. John or Jane pays upfront. LC takes the key to the room on the tab, does the job, tosses the key back after, and the room goes back in rotation.”

  “No security?”

  “Nada,” Jenkinson confirmed. “As low-rent as low gets. So she ran up three hours before the clerk—who was watching porn in the back room—saw it on his tote board. He went up to haul her out, figuring she was using it to sleep in the warm, found her.”

  “No sex, no DNA, no trace.” Reineke lifted empty hands. “Vic had an OTC sedative mixed with cheap wine in her system. No sign of restraints or struggle. She logged in for thirty minutes. TOD came in about ten minutes after the log-in. The murder weapon more of a sash than a scarf. White, tied in a fancy bow.”

  Reineke tapped the left side of his throat.

  “We ran like crimes, followed a few similar to nowhere.” Jenkinson shrugged. “Nothing special about the sash, the sedative, the wine. The vic didn’t have a regular boyfriend or fuck buddy. You had to figure the killer intended to do what he did, maybe targeted her because she was new at it, and that made her an easier mark.”

  “Was she registered for men and women?”

  “Yeah, and the ME cited—especially with the vic being unconscious at the time—it didn’t take a lot of strength to strangle her. We looked at the female angle,” Reineke added. “But hit the wall there, too. We’ve been waiting for the next shoe to drop. You know, the bow, a symbol maybe. But so far, nothing.”

  “You hate seeing one open this long.” Jenkinson glanced at the case board. “A month goes by, five weeks, it stays this cold, the odds just get longer. Either a break falls in your lap, or you get another one. You got another one, LT?”

  “I think she was another one.”

  “Nothing popped out of IRCCA with the white sash and bow. We got scarves and bows and sashes,” Reineke said, easing to his feet again. “But not with all the elements.”

  “We’ve got all of them, just not in reality. In fiction.”

  “Fiction? Is that why that writer was here with Nadine?” Reineke asked. “The one Peabody was all about? Santiago’s a big fan. Talked me into reading one. I don’t much like cop books. They end up pissing me off, but this one was pretty solid. I keep meaning to try another.”

  “Never read a cop book that didn’t blow. You want fiction?” Jenkinson said. “Go with science fiction. You know it’s bullshit going in.”

  “This one didn’t blow,” Reineke insisted. “You’re saying the Hightower writer wrote about a killing like ours?”

  “She says exactly like, and the way she ran it down, she’s right about that. She also wrote one that plays like the one Peabody and I caught yesterday. Too many mirroring elements to be coincidence. Take a fresh look with this in the mix.

  “Your victim wasn’t just plucked off the street,” Eve told them. “She was target specific to mimic the victim in the book. The killer had to stalk and research. The motive arrows back to the books, and the books come from the writer.”

  “Which book was it?” Reineke demanded. “Santiago’ll have it. It’ll help to take a look at it.”

  “Dark Falls. It’s the connected series … Hightower, and launches the Dark series. The second’s my case. The third’s going to be a poisoning in a dance club. Female vic. Anybody gets a dispatch on that, I hear about it. I take it. Spread that word. I’ve got a consult.”

  She looked over as Peabody came in.

  “Did you get the fangirl out of your system?”

  “Born a fangirl, die a fangirl.”

  Eve smiled, very, very pleasantly. “You might just, and sooner than you expect.”

  “I wasn’t just fangirling.” Peabody kept herself beyond boot-kicking distance when she joined them. “I escorted her out, and fangirled just the proper amount so she wouldn’t freak any over the line of questioning I worked out while you were handling the more personal in interview.”

  “What line was that?”

  “How some writers use readers to beta test a story. She doesn’t. I figured if she did, we’d want to look there, but it goes straight from her to her agent and editor. Nobody, not even her mom or her kids—and they’re tight—see any of it. And some writers use researchers to dig up especially obscure or highly detailed information. She doesn’t, so no go on that, either. She’s a little superstitious about the process, like, if she lets too much of what she’s working on or thinking up out there, it, like, diffuses or something. But she has talked to our own Morris a few times, and she sometimes asks Detective Olivia Diaz—retired—some procedural questions. That’s one of the detectives she went to when her ex tuned her up. She was out of the eight-three in Brooklyn. They keep in touch.”

  “Diaz still in Brooklyn?”

  “She moved to Cape May about three years ago when she put in her papers. I did a quick run on her on the way back up. She looks solid.”

  “Reach out, talk to her while I’m with Mira. You’ve avoided unexpected death.”

  “Always a good day.”

  “The day’s not over,” Eve commented, and walked out.

  6

  Eve grabbed a glide, then wove her way through people who obviously weren’t in any damn hurry. She quick-walked the rest of the way to Mira’s outer office, where the dragon admin guarded the gates.

  She said, “You’re late, Lieutenant.”

  Damn it. Deliberately, Eve looked at her wrist unit. Two fricking minutes. Two. “Sorry. I was detained by a little something we call murder.”

  The admin simply smiled her thin, humorless smile and tapped her earpiece. “Dr. Mira, Lieutenant Dallas is here. Of course. You can go right in,” she told Eve.

  Eve breezed by the dragon’s lair and opened the door to Mira’s sanctum.

  At her desk, perfectly presented in an ice-blue suit, the department’s top profiler and headshrinker raised a finger in a one-minute signal as she finished a conversation on her ’link.

  “She just walked in. Yes, I’ll tell her, and yes, it is very interesting. Thanks, Dennis. I’ll see you at home.”

  Mira clicked off, brushed an absent hand at her mink-brown wave of hair. “Sorry, have a seat. Dennis thinks he might have some information relevant to your case.”

  Eve thought of the dreamy-eyed, absentminded Mr. Mira, a man she had a helpless, harmless crush on. And made the connection.

  “He reads Blaine DeLano.”

  Mira sat back, eyebrows arching over soft blue eyes. “Wind. Sails.” She flicked her fingers in the air. “Poof. I’m not about to tell you anything you don’t know.”

  “She came in. Nadine brought her in. I just finished interviewing her.”

  With a nod, Mira rose, walked on ice-blue heels to her office AutoChef. Eve accepted she was in for a dainty cup of flowery tea. “And with the number of mirrored elements, you believe the killer used DeLano’s book as a template.”

  “I do. And not for the first time.”

  Mira paused in her programming, glanced back. “There are more?”

  “One we know of, for now. The book in the same series just prior to this one. The Dark series. You’re not familiar?”

  “I’ve read several of the Hightower books, but I haven’t started the other series. I keep meaning to. Dennis devours both, and when he
heard the report, he thought of the book.”

  She gestured Eve to one of her pretty scoop chairs, brought over the dainty cups, sat. Crossed her excellent legs while she balanced her own cup with a careless grace that continually baffled Eve.

  “He actually pulled the book up on his reader, checked the scene, and made notes on the repeated elements. Before we discuss that: What other murder, other book?”

  “Jenkinson and Reineke caught one last month. A new-to-the-life street-level LC: strangled, no sexual activity, left in a time-flop. The killer used a white sash, tied a fancy bow on the left side of the throat.”

  “I’m not familiar with the case.”

  “They didn’t come to you. They did consult with …” She flipped back through the file in her mind. “Strighter. But with the—for now, anyway—one-shot, no wits, no history, the profile was pretty loose. No like crimes that hit the main notes. The book’s the one DeLano used to—what’s it—spin off the Dark character into another series.”

  “Wait, wait.” Mira closed her eyes a moment. “I read that. Years ago, but it’s coming back. It was a serial case, and the Detective Dark character knew this particular victim.”

  “In both the book and the case, the vic was tranq’d. An over-the-counter sedative mixed in Chianti. No signs of struggle or other injuries. No clerk on the desk, no security. Both vics are in the same age range, same race, both were new to the life.”

  “So repeated elements again,” Mira observed. “In the book, if I’m remembering correctly, it was a female killer, and the victims represented the LCs she learned her husband engaged.”

  “Your memory’s on target. I don’t think that’s what we’re dealing with in reality.”

  Thinking it through, Mira lifted her tea. “No, given this second killing, it would be the books, the author, as motive.”

  “DeLano was up front in the interview.”

  Though she’d send Mira a copy of her refined notes, she relayed the salient points now. Mira nodded, sipped her tea.

  “You’ll have to look at the ex-husband, of course, but my conclusion, with what you now have, is these killings are too tied to her work, too indirect a strike at her. And too intellectual. You’ve described a spousal abuser who relies heavily on manipulation and intimidation, and only broke into violent rage when crossed, when he felt his authority and status threatened. His wife—whom he’d view as his property—challenged his authority, moreover, usurped that authority and status by reaching a level of success—writing and selling a book—completely on her own terms.

  “The killer is detail oriented,” Mira continued, “very controlled. The killing is an act, a reproduction of something he—or she—envies. Or admires. Perhaps both.”

  “She can write about it,” Eve suggested, “but I can make it real.”

  “Yes.”

  “Her killers get caught. I won’t.”

  “Exactly,” Mira agreed. “Because he’s smarter—than the character and the creator. The victims are simply characters. They aren’t real, they have no personal connection to him. They’re avatars, until he makes them real.”

  “Clearly, he’s read the books. More, he must have studied them. So an obsessed reader?”

  “Would fit, yes. The books become real, and the need to re-create grows. That need may come from an obsessed reader or a frustrated writer. A killer with both qualities is a very high probability. He puts himself in the story, writes it from his own point of view. He admires and resents DeLano, professionally. Another reason I think the ex-husband falls outside the profile.”

  “He didn’t start with her first book.”

  “That’s interesting, isn’t it?” Mira considered as she enjoyed her tea. “The Hightower books launched her career.”

  “Another reason the ex-asshole is low on the list.”

  “Yes. As I said, I haven’t read the Dark series, but I did read the one where she turned in her badge, separated from Hightower—as official partners. I need to reread that now. It may be that the separation plays a part in the killer’s mind-set. The fact that the female detective struck out on her own, rebelled against the badge and the limits of it.”

  “Which would bump the ex up the list,” Eve commented.

  “Yes, it’s a factor. The Dark series, from what Dennis told me, is centered on a strong, somewhat reckless woman. Female empowerment. She chose another path, even if parallel. She stills seeks justice, but often breaks rules to find it.

  “Your killer is, obviously, a reader, one who enjoys police procedurals, detective novels, murder mysteries. Entirely too much. They become a world he inhabits. Very likely he believes he has the talent and intellect to create those worlds, and better than DeLano. He—or again she—is mature, controlled, patient enough to select the victim that fits the needs of the story he stars in. To study and plan. A risk taker—it’s worth it, the risk. Nothing great is achieved without risk.”

  “With Rylan, a lot of easier ways to kill. But if he needed to follow a script … It’s not Rylan so much as the re-creation.”

  “I’d agree at this point. I wouldn’t profile him as less than thirty. If he’s male, sex isn’t of great import. Male or female, the killer likely lives alone or in a situation where he or she has considerable time alone, or privacy. He lives in books. He may work with them. Selling them, or at a low-level position in publishing. Nothing with any power. His power’s inside the books, and now manifesting with the actions he takes.”

  “Eventually, he’ll run out of books. I’ll damn well bag him before he gets to eight, but he’s a planner, so he has a plan for when he finishes the last book in the series.”

  “I agree. When the series is done, the only thing left is the creator.”

  “Yeah.” Eve had thought of it while listening to DeLano. “He writes that one. Maybe he already has, right?”

  “It would certainly be a work-in-progress.”

  “Got it.” Eve pushed to her feet. “The third vic’s already selected, studied, and marked.”

  “Who?”

  “It’ll be a half-assed celebrity, self-made badass who used to bang a rock star—I don’t know if it has to be trash rock like in the book. Poison this time, dropped into her fruity martini. Crowded dance club.”

  “Another female victim.”

  “Yeah. Huh. Yeah, that’s three for three.”

  “Give me a second.” Mira pulled out her pocket ’link, said, “Dennis.” A moment later Eve heard his voice—warm, distracted.

  “Charlie.”

  “I know you’re on your way to class, but I have a quick question. In the Dark series, are the murder victims primarily female?”

  “It’s her specialty, you could say. You see, after her friend’s sister was killed in Dark Falls, and Deann becomes embittered by the restrictions on police work, she devotes herself to female victims. There are male victims throughout, of course, but—”

  “The primary victims are female.”

  “That’s the framework of the series. This becomes her mission, her raison d’être. You must read them, Charlie. They’re very cleverly done.”

  “I will. In fact, I’m going to reread Dark Falls tonight.”

  “We’ll snuggle up together. You look so pretty.”

  “Dennis, I adore you. I’ll see you later. Have a good day.”

  Still smiling, Mira slipped the ’link back in her jacket pocket. “It’s nice when the man you’ve been married to for decades still thinks you’re pretty.”

  “You are pretty.”

  “Thank you. It takes considerably more work than it once did. I know you have to get back, and I have another consult, but I think this is another key factor. Female victims. It may be yet another reason the killer focused on this series—and one written by a female. Women may be seen as weak or competition. He may be impotent. She, if it’s a she, may be jealous of what she sees as female power. But female victims, female protagonist, female creator. I doubt that’s insignificant.”
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  “It won’t be. I appreciate the time. And I’d appreciate hearing about it if Mr. Mira has any more insights.”

  “He’ll be thrilled.” Mira rose, walked Eve to the door. “Good luck. I’ll send you a formal profile.” Then she turned to her admin as Eve left. “Would you download the novel Dark Falls by Blaine DeLano? And the book that follows in the series. To my tablet, please.”

  Eve contacted Peabody. “Grab my coat and stuff, meet me in the garage. We’ll take the victim’s residence, then the theater.”

  She aimed for an elevator, jabbed the call button as she calculated working in a visit to DeLano’s ex, work or home. The door opened to reveal a pair of uniforms struggling with a guy with mad tufts of hair, unlaced knee boots, and a flapping topcoat covered in what appeared to be weird symbols drawn on with some sort of metallic marker.

  He actually had tinfoil capped and peaked on his head.

  “They’re coming!” He screamed it, eyes bulging in Eve’s direction. “They eat your brains while you sleep. They look like us, but they’re not. Only the Sign of Umberto can protect you. Don’t sleep! Don’t sleep!”

  Eve opted for the stairs.

  She still beat Peabody and had time to lean against her car, check the victim’s address, the theater’s, check Craig Jefferson’s home and work on his official ID.

  She took a minute to study him. What most would call good-looking—a good head of styled hair, a smooth face. And a smug look in his eyes she’d have noticed even without knowing he was an asshole.

  A marketing executive for some company that made health food, vitamins, supplements.

  For the hell of it, she looked up his current wife. Younger than DeLano, she noted, by six years, but the man had a type. Same coloring as wife number one, same build. First marriage for her, and a listing as professional mother.

  She put her PPC away when she heard Peabody’s boots.

  Eve swung on her coat, stuffed the scarf and hat in pockets for later, and got behind the wheel. “Diaz?”

 
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