Dark in death, p.9
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       Dark in Death, p.9

         Part #46 of In Death series by J. D. Robb
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  “Was happy to help. She comes off genuinely fond of DeLano, and rates the ex as low on the murdering bastard list. She pegs him as more of a sniveling, abusive coward with a massive ego and a hard-on—in the nonsexual way—for women. Unless they’re, in Diaz’s term, of the Breed and Bake category. Outside that, they’re bitches. She’s happy to put the word in with her former LT, ask him to share her case file on the Jefferson arrest. She says he broke pretty fast once they put him in the box—hence the sniveling. But coated it with badass attitude.”

  “I lean toward her take, but we’ll look at him because the killer likely has that same hard-on for women.”

  She filled Peabody in on the consult with Mira as they shoved their way to the victim’s theater district apartment.

  “I should’ve flipped to it,” Peabody said. “The female angle. The writer, the central character, the primary vics throughout the series. I think it’s a solid angle. And you can take it further. The writer lives in a female household. Her mother and two daughters.”

  Peabody glanced over. “You’ve already gone there.”

  “It’s in the mix. We can look at it two ways: either the killer’s male with that hard-on for women, or the killer’s female to keep it consistent. That doesn’t narrow it down.”

  When Eve spotted a street slot within a block of her target, she considered it her lucky day. She hit vertical, ignored Peabody’s muffled squeal, zipped over traffic, and dropped between a bunged-up rattle-trap and a filthy sedan, with a couple inches to spare.

  “I would’ve been all right with walking,” Peabody managed. “I would’ve been all right with it.”

  “Good, because you score a slot like this, you keep it. We’ll hike it to the theater from here after we check out the apartment.”

  “It’s because I bought that Danish on the way into Central. I wasn’t going to, I told myself not to. But it was right there, all glossy and full of the gooey yumness. McNab ate two, but does his skinny ass care? No, it does not.”

  “I thought you had loose pants.”

  “I took them in as an incentive.” Peabody checked her waistband as they hoofed to the building. “Maybe I should’ve left them loose as a reminder.”

  “Your ass is smaller.”

  Peabody stopped dead, jaw dropping. “What did you say?”

  “I’ve got eyes.” Eve kept walking, forcing Peabody to jog to catch up. “They don’t latch themselves onto your ass, but I’ve got eyes.”

  “I want to kiss you on the mouth. With tongue.”

  “Try it and your marginally smaller ass will have my boot marks imprinted thereon.”

  “It could be worth it.”

  Eve pressed the buzzer on the narrow door between a store called Center Stage and a tat and piercing parlor.

  Lola’s voice came tinny through the speaker. “Yes?”

  “Lieutenant Dallas, Detective Peabody.”

  “Okay.” The door buzzed, clicked.

  Eve took one look at the skinny elevator with its dented door in the tiny lobby and took the stairs.

  “Fourth floor.” Peabody sighed. “It’s definitely the fault of the Danish.”

  “We play the angles with her. She’s had some time to settle. Did she notice anybody she saw repeatedly at the vids, especially over the last couple of months? Somebody she saw in the neighborhood, somebody Rylan commented on. You talk to her while I take a look at the vic’s bedroom.”

  “Got it.”

  Lola stood in the doorway, nibbling on a thumbnail. She’d had time to settle, Eve thought, and had spent a lot of it weeping.

  “Chanel. Do you know who …”

  “Not yet, but finding who is our top priority. Can we come in?”

  “Yeah, sure. Ah, this is DeVon.”

  The tall, skinny black man with wild, red-tipped dreads appeared to have done some weeping of his own. He offered a hand.

  “I live across the hall. I can go. I just didn’t want Lola to be alone.”

  “Can he stay? Please? Is that all right?”

  “You know Chanel, Mr. …?”

  “It’s Monrow, but it’s just DeVon. I knew our Chanel. I’m a costume designer. Chanel and I worked on the same play a couple of times.”

  His huge dark eyes teared up, but when Lola let out a broken sob, he put an arm around her shoulders, blinked away threatening tears. “Come on now, my baby girl, you sit down. I’m going to make you some more tea. Can I make some for both of you?”

  “I’m good, thanks. I’d like to see Chanel’s room.”

  “I’ll show you. No, you sit down, baby.” He nudged her into a chair with a colorful print, tucked a bright blue throw around her legs. “I’ll be right back. It’s just over here, ma’am.”

  “Lieutenant,” Eve said, and followed him to the right.

  DeVon stepped into the room with Eve, lowered his voice. “She hasn’t slept all night. She came home early this morning after trying to settle herself down with this guy she’s seeing. Just needed to come home, and came over to get me. I didn’t want to leave her alone. I can step out until you’re done, if you’d rather.”

  “She’d tell you everything we did or said anyway, and it’s clear she needs someone. You make her the tea. But let me ask you if you noticed anyone in the neighborhood, anyone who looked like they might be watching the building, anyone hanging around the theater, the market Chanel used, the vids—if you ever went with them.”

  “I’d go sometimes, but I don’t remember anybody who stood out. We haven’t—hadn’t—worked at the same theater in about seven months. I do the market more than Chanel did. Lola’d do most of that, I guess. I wish I’d noticed somebody. Anybody. She was just a sweetheart. When the man I thought was the love of my life dumped me eight weeks and three days ago? Chanel and Lola were right there, right there for me. I don’t want Lola to be alone.”

  “Go ahead and be with her.”

  He nodded, took a damp-eyed look around the room, managed a smile. “She liked happy, Chanel did. She liked pretty, bright, and happy.”

  When he stepped out, Eve took her own look around.

  Bright and happy covered it. The tiny room all but glowed with bright pink walls—what was it with pink?—and the cheerful art covering them. Mostly flowers and butterflies, Eve noted, and all, to her eye, little originals likely done by friends or bought on the street.

  A candy-striped duvet flowed, just a bit carelessly, over the bed under a mountain range of pillows. More flowers and butterflies, she noted, along with a dancer in one of those ballerina skirts, a unicorn.

  Clothes, just as colorful and bright, tumbled over a chair. Over the single window a half dozen suncatchers were draped from fishing wire. A curlicue mirror over a three-drawer bureau held a collection of photos tucked into its white frame. Bottles, pots, a bouquet of paper flowers in a thin vase, costume jewelry—earrings, bracelets, and pendants in a multicolored bowl—jumbled together on top of the bureau.

  The lone bedside table held a lamp with a frilly white shade, a tablet, a candle that smelled like sugared cookies. In its drawer Eve found tubes of hand cream, face cream, lube, a vibrator, a lighter—likely for the candle—a nail file, little clippers, and basic female paraphernalia.

  She tried the tablet—not passcoded—and skimmed through with the vague hope for a diary or journal. She found what she realized were plays, some with parts highlighted, a calendar and schedule, a lot of bookmarks for stores, theaters, music, e-mails—plenty of them junk and spam—more photos.

  She’d leave the deeper search for EDD, she decided, and turned to the closet.

  If she’d spread her arms, she’d have rapped her elbows on the sides. While she didn’t really appreciate the size of her own closet, studying the complete chaos here made her grateful that hers, through little effort on her part, somehow remained organized.

  Everything jumbled and tumbled—dresses, pants, jackets, shirts—in cheerful disarray. Dozens of scarves and belts hung over the rods. B
oots, shoes, skids tumbled together in skinny cubbies, and out of them like a footwear river. A pair of battered toe shoes hung on a hook by their pale pink ribbons. Worn ballet slippers, shoes with straps and low heels Eve took for dance shoes—and a couple had those metal tap things on the bottoms—crowded onto a shelf above the rods.

  Getting dressed every day must’ve been a frigging opera, she thought as she reached up for a box that bore Chanel’s name in big, bold letters among the glitter of stars.

  Inside, Eve found playbills, old programs from school plays, dance recitals. The playbills had been signed by fellow cast members, some with inscriptions. Inside each, Chanel had tucked photos. Of herself, of other cast members—rehearsals, costume fittings, makeup sessions.

  She’d saved some menus from the restaurant, had her coworkers sign them, attached photos.

  No journal, no diary, Eve thought. Chanel had recorded her life as she lived it. In theater.

  Eve replaced the box, stepped out of the closet. She wouldn’t find the killer here, or any trace of him. Chanel’s life hadn’t mattered to him. She’d only been a character in his world.

  She went back out.

  Lola remained tucked up, DeVon beside her. Peabody sat across from them, talking in low, soothing tones.

  “Did you find anything that helps?” Lola leaned into DeVon as she spoke. “I didn’t touch anything in her room. I couldn’t even go in.”

  “I’d like to take her tablet in, go through it more thoroughly.”

  “You can take anything you need, anything.”

  “Did she have other electronics?”

  “Just the tablet. And the ’link in her purse—you already have that. Do you want mine? You can take mine.”

  “That’s all right.”

  “Should I … should I go see her? Her parents are coming in, and they’re going to see her. Should I?”

  Eve read dread, guilt, fear, grief.

  “I imagine her parents are going to want to have a memorial for her. Maybe you could help them with that. I think that would be more important.”

  “I could help.” She pressed her face to DeVon’s shoulder. “I could.”

  “We’ll help. I bet Annalisa would let us hold one in the restaurant. Music, dancing. That’s Chanel, right?”

  Lola nodded. “Would it be all right if I cleaned up her room some, before her parents come? And maybe, ah, take out a couple of things Chanel would be embarrassed for them to see?”

  “I think Chanel would appreciate that,” Peabody said as she rose. “You’re good friends, both of you.”

  When they trooped back down the stairs, Peabody sighed. “They don’t know anything, Dallas. They want to know something, they’d turn themselves inside out to find something that would help.”

  “There isn’t anything for them to know. We’ll finish it out, hit the vet office, the theater, but it’s long odds. If she knew her killer, it was casually, more like peripherally. Someone who came into the restaurant or to a performance, to the vids, all to observe her. She didn’t keep a diary, but she posted every damn thing on social media. Where she had dinner—while she was having it. Her classes, rehearsals, something that happened at the restaurant, a date, a shopping trip. It’s all there, so he could follow her tracks, pick just the right moment. The one that mirrored the scene in the book.”

  They stopped at the pet clinic on the way to the theater. Eve had Peabody interview the distraught assistant while she herself warily eyed the waiting room full of cats, dogs, and what appeared to be large, furry rodents. One of the cats hissed like a snake inside its carrier, but the rest, as cats often did, simply looked bored or superior.

  Dogs, in Eve’s mind, had three basic modes: dangerous, insanely happy, or just insane.

  She caught the crazy-eyed look in one about the size of a small horse, wondered vaguely why anyone would want a dog they could essentially ride around the house.

  When she made the mistake of meeting those crazy eyes for a split second, it danced its great gray bulk in place, then charged, dragging its squeaking owner out of her chair.

  In defense, Eve slapped a hand to her weapon, but the horse-dog covered the ground like a sprinter, heaved itself up, planted its enormous front paws on her shoulders. And lapped its wide, wet tongue from her chin to her hairline in one noisy slurp.

  “Sampson!” Uselessly, the woman tugged on the leash, pulled at the thick collar. “Down, Sampson, down! He doesn’t bite!”

  If he bit, Eve thought, she would no longer have a face.

  “He likes you.” Breathless, the owner pulled and tugged. “Sometimes something just clicks with someone he sees. He’s still a puppy.”

  Eve looked into eyes shining with a terrifying, crazy love. “A puppy.”

  “He wouldn’t hurt a fly. Sampson, down! He’s gentle as a lamb.”

  “Step on his back foot,” the assistant advised.

  Willing to try anything, Eve put her boot on one of the enormous paws. Sampson dropped down, wagged, leaned his considerable weight lovingly against Eve’s legs.

  “Mrs. Pinksy, you have to be the alpha.”

  “I know, I know. I’m sorry. I do apologize,” she said to Eve.

  “Uh-huh. Peabody?”

  “Yes, sir, we’re done.”

  Relieved, Eve sidestepped, turned for the door. Sampson blithely galloped with her, dragging his owner behind as she begged him to stop, sit, heel, behave.

  Once again, Eve looked down into the eyes gleaming with mad love.

  She pointed, said, “Sit!”

  He dropped his huge ass onto the floor, slapped his axe of a tail. “Stay,” she ordered.

  As she escaped, she heard the assistant say, “That’s an alpha, Mrs. Pinksy.”

  “He was sweet,” Peabody began. “Big and sloppy and sweet.”

  “He licked my entire face.” Eve ran her hands over it, grateful her skin appeared to be intact. “I think he might have licked my eyeballs.”

  She shuddered it away as they walked. “I lost track in there, but from what I heard, she couldn’t add anything.”

  “Nothing. She bought the emergency, and why wouldn’t she? She tried to get more information, but he broke the call. She followed protocol, contacted Lola, then went in to set up an exam room, and possibly surgery.

  “She also checked their records. They have two patients named Prince, but one’s a cat, the other’s a ferret. No canine patients by that name.”

  “We tie it up, then we layer over Jenkinson and Reineke’s work on Rosie Kent. The killer crossed both vics’ paths, and DeLano’s. We find the intersections.”

  The wind blew and with it brought the scents of soy dogs, hot pretzels, roasted chestnuts. The urban street banquet. She caught Peabody’s head swivel toward a smoking glide-cart.

  “After,” Eve said.

  She badged the guard at the theater door, crossed the empty lobby. She paused at the back of the house as music swelled and the woman onstage finished up a number in a belting Broadway voice.

  She ended it with her arms raised high, her head flung back.

  Then she dropped her arms, shot out a megawatt smile as one of the three seated in the center of the house applauded.

  “Thank you!”

  “Thank you, Jessilyn. Or should we say Sadie.”

  “Oh God.” She clasped her hands together. “I got it? I got it?” On a throaty laugh she circled the stage in pirouettes. “Oh my God.”

  “She looks enough like Rylan to be her sister,” Peabody commented.

  “Yeah. Take the three, and I’ll start with her. Let’s see what we get.”


  With her high, sunny ponytail swaying, the actress bounced offstage toward the three in the seats. Eve started down the sloping center aisle.

  She heard the woman bubbling, saw her shaking hands, or in one case, hugging the one she called David.

  Eve gave it a moment to play out.

  “Sorry to interrupt. Lieutenant Dallas, Dete
ctive Peabody.”

  She watched the amused pleasure in David’s eyes fade away. “Yes, of course. David Reingold. We’re running just a little behind.”

  “Are you being arrested at last, David?” Still flying, Jessilyn Brooke beamed at him. “For being criminally talented.”

  He shot her a quick smile, took Eve’s arm. “Give me a minute,” he said as he led her a few paces off. “We haven’t told Jessilyn yet, about Chanel. Mitzie and George agreed we should wait until after this callback, rather than have Jessilyn carry that through it, or postpone it. If you’d give me a few minutes to speak with her, tell her what happened.”

  “I’ll take care of that.” Eve turned. “Miss Brooke, if you’d come with me.”

  “Sorry, what?”

  “Go ahead, Jess. I’ll be right here.”

  “All right, David. You’re the boss. What’s this about?” she asked as she walked up to Eve. “Are you really the police?”

  “Let’s sit back here.” Eve gestured to Peabody so her partner would take the group to the front while she took the actress to the back.

  “Can we make it fast? I’m really on a high, and I need to contact my agent. My mother. My ex-boyfriend.”

  Eve pointed to a chair in the last row, sat on the armrest of the one beside it so she could face the woman.

  “Can you describe your relationship with Chanel Rylan?”

  “Chanel?” Jessilyn glanced around the theater as if expecting to see her competitor. “Look, I know she got the callback, too, but … Is this some David way of telling me we’re sharing the part? That we’re going into rehearsals co-owning it?” Some of the shine faded, but Jessilyn shrugged. “I can live with that. I still got it. I nailed that number.”

  “I take it you haven’t listened to or read any media this morning?”

  “On the morning of the biggest callback of my career? You’re joking, right? I spent the morning sacrificing black-feathered chickens to the primeval theater gods. In my brain,” she added when Eve didn’t smile. “No chickens were actually harmed.”

  “Miss Brooke, I’m sorry to inform you Chanel Rylan was killed last night.”

  “That’s not funny.” All the shine dropped now, and angry insult took its place. “That’s an ugly thing to say. David!”

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